In 2018, I visited my parents’ home in my hometown, Battambang. In the morning, while I was sitting on a red swing chair, my parents came close to me to chat. We were in conversation and suddenly my dad said: “Soon, we (my parents) are going to die.” I was stuck there by his words. And I know that I won’t have much time longer with them.
Since a young boy, my dad liked planting vegetables and fruit trees. He planted fruit trees wherever he lived. After he retired in 2008, from government work in a nearby province, Siem Reap, my parents returned to my dads’ hometown to live in Battambang. Since his return, he planted a variety of fruit trees on the plantation land. Fruit for our family to eat and also to sell at the local markets. They liked working by themselves, planting, harvesting and selling. Slowly, they couldn’t work hard as they were not young anymore, and it was time to slow down. Words of my dad have stayed in my head. Walking together and enjoying our morning conversations, we walked around our plantation land and observed the growing trees, fruit on the trees and also the fruit which fell down onto the dead leaves everywhere on the ground. Observing this nature inspired me to produce the “Sunset” series. In April 2019, in poetic way, with natural light under the trees, I took these photographs of failed fruits and dried leaves at my family plantation, in Battambang.
Finally, we are going back to nature, back to the ground and the ground will be continued planting, philosophy of live & death.
My dad passed away at the age of 74 years old in December 2020, in Battambang.
Memo by Miriam La Rosa for Fertile Ground at Center for Contemporary Photography 2021
The works are inspired by a conversation the artist had with his parents about the ineluctability of death. Organic materials are photographed decomposing into the ground, epitomising the cyclic nature of life and death. The images take me to Greece and the myth of Demetra, the goddess of agriculture who lost her daughter to the god of the underworld. In her despair and later joy (following their reconciliation), Demetra gave birth to the four seasons. The seed remains after death and is also the door to a new life. It operates in a recurring journey that goes from morbidity to hope, and from tree to soil. “In a handful of healthy soil there are more organisms than the number of people who have ever lived on planet Earth”—the words of Dr Kristine Nichols, who is a leader in the movement to regenerate soils, resonate here. By overexploiting the land, we have affected the circularity of Demetra’ s seasons. The poetry of Hak’ s work reminds us of the importance—and inescapability—of their return.