Phira Rhem at UROC Gallery

<em>A Suicidal's Deception</em> by Phira Rehm

A Suicidal's Deception by Phira Rehm

There are just a few examples of Phira Rehm's work at "Embracing Cambodia: The Yearning for Home," now on display at UROC Gallery in north Minneapolis, but they show a small glimpse into some dark themes involving personal struggles, disconnection, and identity. Together with examples of traditional Cambodian paintings, carvings, and temple figures from the artist's collection, the show provides a window into one woman's relationship to a country she hasn't been to since she was an infant.  [jump]

Rhem moved to the United States as an infant. As a youth she was a student artist at Juxtaposition Arts, and is currently a B-Girl B artist. "For me, art has always been a tool for expression and a process through which I can achieve freedom from oppression," she says in her artist statement. 
Her work suggests a sadness, and also shows an artist grappling with who she is and where she comes from. In A Suicidal's Deception, the face of a woman, painted in blue with Cambodian features, is framed by flowers and butterflies. Her eyes are closed, and she has a half-smile. In contrast to the bright colors of the woman's face and flowers, the background of the painting is muddy, dark, and ominous-looking, suggesting that behind the serene exterior, the woman hides deep-seeded despair.

Her Indifference to My Existence also depicts a face, this time filled with anguish. The visage is partially obscured by bright-blue strokes that seem to wash over her. Perhaps it's a piece about unrequited love, or it could be a comment on the experience of being invisible in American society. Regardless of the exact meaning behind the painting, it's a striking image.

Finally, in Mirror 2 My Insecurities, Rehm paints an abstracted figure of a seated woman, nude, with her face masked. Like in Her Indifference to My Existence, Rehm uses bright colors--especially blue--but also a pale blue for the skin of the woman. She made the piece in 2007, and it doesn't have quite the clarity and layers that the other two paintings have, but it shows the work of a skilled painter able to balance narrative with shape and form.

The show is definitely worth checking out, both for Rehm's artwork as well as her very interesting collection of art that she shares in the gallery. There's also a few Cambodian recipes you can take home with you.

"Embracing Cambodia: The Yearning for Home" is at UROC Gallery until Septmember 12. Gallery hours are Monday- Friday 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.