In a subtle but definite way, Flower challenges the well-established notions of feminine identity in Cambodian society. Neak Sophal takes as her starting point romantic songs of the 60s and local expressions that compare women to a flower or white paper, motifs which imply that purity, beauty and fragility should be the mainstays of femininity.

Sophal worked with several female models to create portraits that display their faces framed by flowers which were selected for their cultural significance. The prints are then stained with colourful pigments resulting in an aesthetic that, while retaining its own intrinsic beauty, contradicts the locally typical image of a beautiful woman, which is often highly stylized with makeup, jewellery, costume and fantasy backgrounds.

These latter elements are represented by the pigment in Sophal’s portraits, which instead rely on the natural beauty of the model to break through, quietly asserting that a woman can be appreciated, and respected, just as she is.

Neak Sophal is a conceptual photographer, considered to be one of the emerging talents of the contemporary Cambodian art scene. Her works highlight social issues and specificities of the Cambodian culture, with a strong focus on the stories and memories of her models to create narrative and context.

Trained as a graphic designer at the Phnom Penh Royal University for the Arts, she always carefully prepares the composition of her photographs by asking the model to pose, sometimes with specific significant objects.

Sophal has been actively involved in workshops and group and solo exhibitions locally and internationally. Over the last four years she has exhibited in France, Japan, Australia, Angkor Photo Festival, Spot Art, Singapore, Hong Kong International Photo Festival, Asian Eye Culture in Thailand, Voice of Tacitness Exhibition in China, Our City Festival Phnom Penh, SurVivArt, Berlin, and Photo Phnom Penh festival.

Neak Sophal was born in 1989 in Takeo. She now lives and works in Battambang.

The exhibition opens on Tuesday, May 9 at 6:30pm and runs until June 25 at Java, A Creative Café, Independence Monument