News / Asia

    New Generation Redefines Cambodian Art

    Vann Nath, one of just seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's S-21 prison in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, explains a painting depicting torture at his exhibition in Phnom Penh, (File Photo)
    Vann Nath, one of just seven survivors of the Khmer Rouge's S-21 prison in Cambodia's capital Phnom Penh, now known as the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, explains a painting depicting torture at his exhibition in Phnom Penh, (File Photo)
    Luke Hunt

    After almost 14-years of peace, Cambodia has moved from a country engulfed by war to one of the region’s top tourist destination. Conflict has also given way to a fledgling manufacturing industry and a evolving culture reflected in an emerging Cambodian art scene.

    Traditional art

    Cambodian art was once known for its rigid, two-dimensional copies of Angora Wat and pleasant countryside scenes that pre-dated the country’s 30-year war. Then came depictions of the sheer terror under the Khmer Rouge, which decimated traditional culture and banned most visual art, except for purely political purposes.

    In the immediate years after the war the country’s art scene was almost non-existent. Now, artists strive to reflect a rapidly normalizing society.

    Nico Mesterharm, the director of the Meta House Art Gallery in Phnom Penh, arrived here from his native Germany when Cambodian art was still defined by commercial painters who mainly depicted traditional motifs.

    Emerging trends

    Now, he says local artists are fusing local traditions with the modern and borrowing ideas from abroad.

    “They see also that there is a thriving art scene in neighboring countries Thailand and Vietnam," said Mesterharm. "So they learn from other countries, from the achievement which have taken place in other countries.”

    He says the country’s art scene started to change in 2005, when about 25 Cambodia contemporary artists started a project called Visual Arts Open.

    This sparked the move towards contemporary arts and away from painting copies of landscapes or portraits to emphasize interpretation.

    Artist Chhim Sothy, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 4, 2012.
    Artist Chhim Sothy, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, January 4, 2012.

    Chhim Sothy is among these new artists. His paintings fetch up to $3,000 each and have been exhibited across Asia, in Europe and the United States.

    He says the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge dominated his early work while religion and, in particular, Buddhism were also major influences. But he now looks at other sources of inspiration.

    “For my favorite painting, I like more contemporary art or abstract art like Picasso, William Kooning, Gauguin or van Gough, I like this style," he said. "Now I change a lot, work about the family, about the people around me, sometimes abstract, sometimes thinking about real life. I’m very happy because I develop a lot.”

    Modern art

    Chhim Sothy uses oil on canvas, many shades of green, blues and a splash of red in his nudes which relate more to urban family life than the erotic. Mother and child are constant themes in his work which also mixes mythical characters of Hindu poems with man as the explorer of life.

    It is a long way from the Institute of Culture and Fine Arts where most of the country’s painters are groomed in rudimentary art. It is also a long way from the days when he sold pictures to tourists for a few dollars.

    “For some time I mix together, combine together with classical and modern art for new art," said Chhim. "Now my artwork is so expensive because it’s a new creation, it’s my concept.”

    The resurgence and fusion of local classical art with outside contemporary influences is changing the cultural landscape. Film, dance and music have also a witnessed re-awakening.

    Local tendencies

    But Mesterharm says there are still nagging problems concerning local art, in particular, there is a tendency to only depict what is considered beautiful. Artists remain reluctant to focus on social issues in a country where poverty and corruption are prevalent.

    “Most of the art is quite colorful people try to work with different materials," said Mesterharm. "They work in the fields of sculpture, painting and photography. They also try to do something, which is Cambodian. They try to find their own identity. Only if they do so they will also find a market because this is what this scene still lacks is a local market and an international market.”

    While the Cambodian art scene searches for broader recognition, its supporters say local artists have already come a long way, considering how they are working to overcome 30 years of war and the Khmer Rouge, who effectively annihilated Cambodian art and culture for decades.

    You May Like

    US, Somalia Launch New Chapter in Relations

    US sends first ambassador to Somalia in 25 years; diplomatic presence and forces pulled out in 1993, after 18 US soldiers were killed when militiamen shot down military helicopter

    Brexit Vote Ripples Across South Asia

    Experts say exit is likely to have far-reaching economic, political and social implications for a region with deep historic ties to Britain

    Russian Military Tests Readiness With Snap Inspections

    Some observers see surprise drill as tit-for-tat response to NATO’s recent multinational military exercises in Baltic region

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Testing Bamboo as Building Materiali
    X
    June 27, 2016 9:06 PM
    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Testing Bamboo as Building Material

    For thousands of years various species of bamboo - one of the world's most versatile plants - have been used for diverse purposes ranging from food and medicine to textiles and construction. But its use on a large scale is hampered because it's not manufactured to specific standards but grown in the ground. A University of Pittsburgh professor is on track to changing that. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Orphanage in Iraqi City Houses Kids Who Lost their Parents to Attacks by IS

    An orphanage in Iraqi Kurdistan has become home to scores of Yazidi children who lost their parents after Islamic State militants took over Sinjar in Iraq’s Nineveh Province in 2014. Iraqi Kurdish forces backed by the U.S. airstrikes have since recaptured Sinjar but the need for the care provided by the orphanage continues. VOA’s Kawa Omar filed this report narrated by Rob Raffaele.
    Video

    Video Re-Opening Old Wounds in a Bullet-Riddled Cultural Landmark

    A cultural landmark before Lebanon’s civil war transformed it into a nest of snipers, Beirut’s ‘Yellow House’ is once again set to play a crucial role in the city.  Built in a neo-Ottoman style in the 1920s, in September it is set to be re-opened as a ‘memory museum’ - its bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking the city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Brexit Resounds in US Presidential Contest

    Britain’s decision to leave the European Union is resounding in America’s presidential race. As VOA’s Michael Bowman reports, Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump sees Britain’s move as an affirmation of his campaign’s core messages, while Democrat Hillary Clinton sees the episode as further evidence that Trump is unfit to be president.
    Video

    Video New York Pride March A Celebration of Life, Mourning of Loss

    At this year’s march in New York marking the end of pride week, a record-breaking crowd of LGBT activists and allies marched down Manhattan's Fifth Avenue, in what will be long remembered as a powerful display of solidarity and remembrance for the 49 victims killed two weeks ago in an Orlando gay nightclub.
    Video

    Video NASA Juno Spacecraft, Nearing Jupiter, to Shed Light on Gas Giant

    After a five-year journey, the spacecraft Juno is nearing its destination, the giant planet Jupiter, where it will enter orbit and start sending data back July 4th. As Mike O'Sullivan reports from Pasadena, California, the craft will pierce the veil of Jupiter's dense cloud cover to reveal its mysteries.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapides’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora