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Artist Statement

My artistic practice is largely informed by my experiences as a second generation Cambodian. Our parents and their peers suffer from undiagnosed PTSD and schizofrenia because they were war children, which had a detrimental effect in our homes growing up. Experiencing loss and displacement in my child- and adulthood broke my heart completely, but also set it wide open: I learned to express compassion for others early on, and understood the power of creating space for voices unheard. Today I am especially moved by airing (hi)stories that are painful, complex and decolonial, because I believe reckoning with them will set everyone free.

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My work takes on a myriad of forms: interactive installations, performance, drawing and writing mainly. However, I've expressed myself through different skill sets throughout my artistic career, such as DJing, coding, community building and painting. My work has been described as intimate, meticulous and inherently social.

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“Tol excels at unfolding the link between political and spiritual forms of reckoning. In her paintings, writing, and public projects she draws on her own experience — both of Cambodian tradition, and urban life, in Rotterdam, and London — to provide a profound understanding of what it means for cultures to exist „in the wake“ (as political theorist Christina Sharpe puts it) of tremendous violence caused by imperial expansion, and post-colonial displacement.

Tol vividly demonstrates in her art and writing how „keeping the wake“ can be a practice where communal mourning goes hand in hand with vivacious community building, and how young urban cultures may tap into old spiritual knowledge to acknowledge pain and loss, while seeking a future, and dignity in life.”

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Jan Verwoert. Prof. of Art & Theory, writer & critic.

Samboleap Tol (b. 1990) focuses on unearthing the postcolonial diasporic psyche, with a central focus on questions of embodied psychological inheritance. She explores ideas of dignity, love, and family that emerge after centuries of colonial brutality, and she explores how the act of reckoning through truth-telling, on personal and political levels, can help restore faith and dignity.

For over a decade, she has pursued this collaborative practice, engaging with members of different postcolonial communities around the world, from London to Sydney to Rotterdam. Through storytelling, animations, and music in her performances, she hopes to honor their spirits and stories.

In her most recent artwork, Dharma Songs v2, she channels their stories literally: in this interactive installation, she invites viewers to dip a flower in the water of a gong, and voices will emerge. Six friends and family members from the postcolonial diaspora have responded to her question:“If you have anything to share or ask with your ancestors, what would you say?”

In her works, she explores the connection between ancient and contemporary Southeast Asian cosmologies and the contemporary social realities of postcolonial descendants, as she seeks to address questions about how to relate to difficult pasts, untold truths, and the (unburied) dead.

Tol is heavily inspired by Khmer spiritual beliefs throughout the centuries, which is influenced by Theravada Buddhism, centuries of Hindu influence, diasporic Southern Chinese expressions of faith, and indigenous Khmer spirituality. Ancestral veneration, in particular, forms the cornerstone of her thinking.

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Short bio

Samboleap Tol (1990) is based in Rotterdam. She is a research associate at The Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation (TrAIN), University of Arts London and a graduate of the Piet Zwart Institute, where she won the Piet Zwart Institute's Masters Research Awards (2021).

She studied Fine Arts at Sint Lucas School of Arts and Design (Antwerp) and Central Saint Martins (London), and also has a degree in Media from the Erasmus University Rotterdam and University of Sydney.

She has performed and exhibited at South London Gallery (London, 2019), Framer Framed (Amsterdam, 2023), Tate Modern (London, 2018), Ufer Studios (Berlin, 2023) de Balie (Amsterdam, 2023), TENT (2023), and more; and has taught classes at Camberwell College of the Arts (UAL) and Willem de Kooning academie (HR). During her time as a bachelor student at Central Saint Martins, she organised the first student-led exhibition in the history of the college (Lethaby Gallery, 2018).

She was a resident at the Cemeti Institute for Arts and Society in Yogyakarta, Indonesia and Rib Rotterdam. In November 2023, she won the 10th edition of the Dolf Henkes Prijs, a prestigious biannual art prize awarded to Rotterdam based artists.

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