In May 2011, Svay Sareth dragged a giant metal ball from his home in Siem Reap to Phnom Penh, a 250 kilometre journey that took six days. The metal sphere was of a 2-metre-wide diameter and weighed 80 kilograms. There are multiple layerings to Sareth’s simple act of dragging the ball. In the most direct sense, it represents the immense personal baggage from the past that still lingers unresolved in Cambodian society. Like a “ball and chain”, it is also a comment on the tendency of history to imprison the present. More locally, it refers to the forced labour practices under the Khmer Rouge, where men would be harnessed to carts and made to work the fields.
Svay Sareth (b. 1972, Battambang, Cambodia) spent most of his life in refugee camps and the experience of surviving and what it means to be a survivor of Cambodia's turbulent and violent history is the structuring force behind his artistic practice and psychological outlook. Sareth was the winner of the Overall Best Emerging Artist prize at the 2016 Prudential Eye Awards for Contemporary Asian Art. He is the co-founder of Phare Phonlue Selepak and has exhibited in Berlin, Cambodia, France, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.