Under the Water: Cambodian Artist Sreymao Sao on the Lived Experience of Hydropower Dams

In this article, we continue to explore how art can ‘unflatten’ our understanding of mega-infrastructure like the Lower Sesan 2 Dam (see Milne and Mahanty’s essay in this issue). We focus on the remarkable work of Cambodian artist Sreymao Sao, who explores the lived experiences of communities displaced by the Lower Sesan 2 Dam—some 5,000 indigenous and ethnic-minority people from four villages (Mahanty 2021)—as well as those living upstream and downstream.

Sreymao Sao’s work—as seen in her exhibition ‘Under the Water’, a collaboration with Sa Sa Art Projects, shown at the MIRAGE Contemporary Art Space in Siem Reap, Cambodia, from 11 January to 11 February 2019—explores villagers’ changing experience of their rivers, lands, and lives. The title refers both to the villages submerged by the Lower Sesan 2 Dam and to downstream villages along the Mekong River who are geographically ‘under’ this and other dams.

Continue reading this photo essay on The People’s Map of Global China.

Cover Image: Moving homes in Srae Kor. PC: © Sreymao Sao, 2018.
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Soksophea Suong

Soksophea Suong graduated with a MA in Public Policy from The Australian National University. She is an independent researcher and consultant based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Soksophea collaborates with several Cambodian civil society organisations and government agencies on projects related to gender, child rights, and development. She also teaches social work at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.

Sango Mahanty

Sango Mahanty is a Professor in the Resources, Environment, and Development Program at The Australian National University’s Crawford School of Public Policy. She is a critical geographer who studies the politics of green economies, frontier markets, and nature–society transformations in Cambodia and Vietnam. Sango’s upcoming book, Unsettled Frontiers: Market Formation in the Cambodia–Vietnam Borderlands (Cornell University Press, 2022), explores these related themes within this rapidly changing region. Her current research is studying how communities and civil society respond to nature–society ruptures at hydropower dam sites in mainland Southeast Asia, including the Lower Sesan 2 Dam.

Sarah Milne

Sarah Milne is a senior lecturer at the Crawford School of Public Policy at The Australian National University. Since gaining her PhD in Geography from the University of Cambridge (2010), Sarah has studied natural resource politics in a range of settings. Most of her work has focused on Cambodia, where she has been active as an environmentalist and advocate since 2002. Sarah’s latest publication explores local experiences of violence around hydropower dams in the Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia.

Sreymao Sao

Sreymao Sao is an artist based in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. She studied visual arts at Phare, a school for the creative arts in Battambang, graduating in 2006. Sreymao has worked with various Cambodian civil society organisations on community-oriented visual arts projects, that explore issues of environmental and social change.

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