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Ancient faces loom large at X-EM mask exhibition

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Em Riem stands by his golden masks in the Eternity exhibition at La Galerie X-EM Design.

ARTIST Em Riem has put a new – and daunting – face on Khmer culture with Eternity, his fifth exhibition at La Galerie X-EM Design, the studio owned by his design company.

The exhibition contains 14 sculpted masks, depicting the fearsome faces seen in ancient carvings and temples.

“Those figures show a side of divinity that we have never obviously seen, and that people often use to scare little kids. When other artists and I were young, we always imagined those pictures in our minds, with the long mouths, rectangular noses, big eyes, and so on. That’s what brought me to mold these sculptures,” Em Riem told 7Days.

In bringing the ancient legends to life, Em Riem said he added some new touches – but each artwork is firmly rooted in traditional designs.

“I have not created the faces, they have been around since the Angkor period when Khmer people respected the spirits of stones, trees, land and water… but I wanted to bring them into contemporary
decoration.

“I want to show off our fascinating history through an arts perspective to people all over the world, to show that Khmer culture has something else besides ancient temples, Angkor décor, and the Khmer Rouge genocide museum.”

Em Riem said that the title Eternity refers to the timelessness of the legends, and serves as a reminder of the fact that they have endured since the early Angkor empire era.

“For me, two hundred years is a long time, so the title Eternity casts perspective on the Khmer temples and sculptures, which are thousands of years old.”

Also at the gallery is Em Riem’s water colour painting based on Tuol Sleng, and abstract artwork by French-based painter Thav Sovan. Visiting the gallery is free for Khmer patrons.

Eternity will be showing until November at La Galerie X-EM Design, # 13, Street 178, Phnom Penh.

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