Objects of Belief is a documentation and sampling of various objects used in Theravada Buddhist pagodas of today’s Cambodia. They include items that are indicative of syncretic practice, including Hinduism and animist beliefs that existed before Buddhism became the national religion and concurrently, items suggesting the influence of the cultural and economic diversity present in Cambodia today. At its core, the body of works reveals an important dialectic between the notion of belief and truth; that religious objects’ materiality and ritual function, like language, change over time. Than Sok’s research thus often concludes with no single truth but instead a variety of interpretations.
In Kbach Teuk, Than Sok works from both traditional stories such as the Jatakas1 and Reamker2, which he studied its narrative and style on temple walls as part of his education with one of Cambodia’s most esteemed female painters, Duong Saree3, at Reyum Art School and his lived experience. Within this body of works, the artist draws reference from different narratives in ancient literature as well as his own personal memories of watching boat races with his father and when his village worked together to dig a new pond as a shared water source. While traditional representations of water in Cambodian painting have tended to be a secondary and complimentary subject to human and mythical characters’ drama, the artist’s study isolates water as the subject itself. As stated by Than Sok, “The ancient stories relate to today. For example, we are geographically divided by water, but water has the potential to bring us together.”