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ART SPIEL /// Linda Sok: Biomythographies

By on November 27, 2023 read article

My grandmother with a bird, 2021, silk, cotton, salt, ink, wood, 80 x 70 inches, image courtesy of the artist

Linda Sok uses in her fiber-based sculptures elaborate dyeing techniques practiced throughout Asia and imagery of her family she receives through social media to convey narratives of migration and cross-cultural pollination. Linda Sok is a second-generation descendant of survivors of the Khmer Rouge Regime, a genocidal period in Cambodia’s history that forced her family to flee Cambodia. By accessing fragments of Cambodia’s traumatic past, she attempts to recontextualize lost traditions and culture to allow living descendants to process the history through a contemporary lens.

What can you tell us about the piece you exhibited recently at the Kunstraum show?

The work in the show at Kunstraum is called Deities in temples I (2023) and is part of their two-part exhibition Memory Mirage. The work examines recently recovered and translated (from French to English) museum registration cards that verify the existence of lost Pidan weavings. Due to a number of reasons, such as environmental degradation, its collection in museums, or its destruction during the war, the weavings have been lost to time, and the only thing that exists are these cards that describe what they might look like. I have offered the descriptions on the cards to members of my family. I had my family share their drawings and stories with me, which I used to guide the construction of this work, to stand in the place of the missing textile. The work attempts to decolonize their legacy and enter them into a space where the works become tangible objects in the contemporary world. This piece is part of a larger body of work that I hope to continue long into the future.

Deities in temples I, 2023, Printed and woven silk threads, dye, 36 x 34 inches, image courtesy of the artist

You say in your bio text that you see your artwork as a biomythography, positioning historical events, cultural objects, personal stories, and your family’s contemporary life as archives from which you can begin to build a narrative for Cambodia and your past and future. Can you give us an example of that in your suspended piece from 2022? We are going to temple tomorrow; who wanna come? (Pidan)

This piece was inspired by my interest in Pidans, a traditional Cambodian silk weaving that depicts pictorial iconography of Buddhist scenes, such as garuda, naga, people in prayer, and other Buddhist imagery. The pieces are made through a laborious technique called ikat, a resist dyeing technique practiced in many Asian countries. In We are going temple tomorrow, who wanna come? (Pidan), I use imagery of my family that was sent to me through social media. I wanted to incorporate their imagery into the pieces to explore and contrast my family’s and my own migration. Everyday events are portrayed in the imagery, elevating them to the sacred status that the pidans traditionally held. Scenes depicted in the work include a gift in the form of a bucket of fish, a stack of donuts to celebrate a birthday, people sitting in prayer at a temple, and vegetables growing in my family’s garden. I made this piece after moving from Australia to the US, so the memories created by my family exist in an imagined space, similar to the way stories of my family’s experiences of the Khmer Rouge exist only as memories. To me, these memories and stories are made tangible through this process of reconstruction.

We are going to temple tomorrow, who wanna come? (Pidan), 2022, Cambodian silk, printed and woven silk threads, metal, 45 x 98 inches, image courtesy of the artist

Some of the pieces in the Migration Series (2021-2) strike me as ghostly and ephemeral. What is the genesis of this series, and what is your process of making the pieces?

The three works in this series are titled My mother in the park, My grandmother with a bird, and My father with a bucket of fish. The ghostly nature of the imagery emerges from the process I use to speak to ideas of memory and loss. The imagery in this series was taken from a larger archive of images collected throughout the pandemic. These were images that were sent to me digitally and underwent a process of printing, deconstruction, and reconstruction. This series of works was a precursor to the piece We are going temple tomorrow, who wanna come? (Pidan) that I spoke of earlier. I was experimenting to develop my language for approaching the ikat dyeing technique to provide a more contemporary approach to the ancient process. This new approach involved screen printing directly onto threads that have been stretched out onto cardboard. I then remove the threads from the cardboard and weave those threads to create the weaving. The procedure reflects the slow process of reconstructing narratives tied to my family’s experiences in the Khmer Rouge.

My grandmother with a bird, 2021, silk, cotton, salt, ink, wood, 80 x 70 inches, image courtesy of the artist

Playing with material seems important in your work; how do you see the relationship between materiality and your approach to biomythography? Can you give us a specific example?

I enjoy playing with different materials and seeing their potential. I think there is a direct relationship between my materials and the idea of biomythography. I’ve worked with many materials, often from materials found around my childhood home. The idea of biomythography centers my family and me as a source from which I can continue to pull as a way to connect to my culture and history. Materials I’ve used in the past include silk (fabric, thread, fibers), salt, mosquito nets, gold leaf, discarded and collected fabrics, rainwater, photographs, and metal. Currently, I am exploring the historical and cultural significance of Cambodian silk and thinking about its properties of strength and healing. I have been exploring its ability to speak to the history of Cambodia in its trauma and resilience.

Photo by Young Yu Dong. Courtesy of NARS Foundation

Linda Sok is currently completing an MFA at the Rhode Island School of Design with a major in Sculpture. She lived in Boston, New York, and Australia (where she was born and spent most of her life). After completing a degree in science, she pursued a degree in Fine Art and has not looked back since. Linda has exhibited in institutions such as the Center for Craft (NC), Artspace (NSW), Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre (NSW), Firstdraft Gallery (NSW), Institute of Modern Art (QLD), and Gertrude Contemporary (VIC). She is the recipient of the Monash Room Emerging Artist Prize and the American Australian Association Arts Grand Fund. Residencies include Textile Arts Center (NY), Lower East Side Printshop (NY), NYFA Immigrant Artist Program (NY). She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from UNSW Art & Design with First Class Honors and the University Medal in Fine Arts.


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