Human Nature

Khvay Samnang


Between 2010 and 2011, Khvay undertook a project, “Human Nature,” in which he subverts common approaches to the photographic documentation of a community. Having developed strong relationships with residents of Phnom Penh “White Building”, an iconic edifice in which the arts were thriving as the building – lacking upkeep – was crumbling, Khvay countered other public interest in the Building by creating portraits in which the inhabitants, posing with dignity in their own apartments, wore masks they choose. Masks Khvay had fashioned from a variety of materials. Khvay explains that – given the attention the White Building and its denizens had been attracting, for all sorts of historical/cultural, political and economic reasons – “even though we are innocent, we may also need a mask.”


Khvay Samnang was born in 1982 in Svay Rieng, Cambodia. He graduated from the Painting Department at the Royal University of Fine Art in Phnom Penh, where he lives and works today. Khvay’s multidisciplinary practice offers new views on historic and current events as well as on traditional cultural rituals using humorous symbolic gestures. In his work, which includes all media, he focuses on the humanitarian and ecological impacts of colonialism and globalization. The development of each body of work is based on thorough research and investigation of local specificities, structures and conditions. Traveling is a crucial tool for his practice. Engaging directly and personally with local communities – within and beyond the cultural scene – is an integral part of his work, which makes it highly relevant, critical and connectable to various contemporary discourses. His work shows a remarkable ability to engage with cultural and geographic contexts as well as with spatial and institutional settings.

Khvay Samnang is among the most promising up-and-coming international artists. His outstanding artistic significance is proven by his prestigious exhibition and grant portfolio. His solo exhibitions include Where is my land?, Sa Sa Art Projects, Phnom Penh (2017); Bloom Projects Exchange Series, Museum of Contemporary Art, Santa Barbara, USA (2016); The Pacific Project: Khvay Samnang, Orange County Museum of Art, CA, USA; Footprints of Yantra Man, Künstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, Germany, Enjoy My Sand, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, Japan; Rubber Man, Jeu de Paume, Paris, CAPC Bordeaux, France (2015); and Human Nature, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Singapore (2014). His group exhibitions include Constructing Mythologies, Edouard Malingue Gallery, Hong Kong; Animals & Us, Turner Contemporary, Margate, UK; Biennale of Sydney, Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia (2018); Fleeting Territories, Kunstraum Niederosterreich, Vienna, Austria; DOCUMENTA 14, Athens, Greece / Kassel, Germany; People, Money, Ghosts, Jim Thompson Art Center, Bangkok (2017); Future Nature, Jack Hanley Gallery, NYC, USA.