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Capturing Cambodia on canvas

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Portraits by Japanese artist Nobuaki Hirose. Photograph: Phnom Penh Post

Walking the streets of Phnom Penh you rarely see elderly people.

Neither do you find many in the rest of Cambodia. When it does happen it always makes an impression. You may sense suffering, need, but also joy in a facial expression of an elderly Khmer within a glimpse. Faces tell a thousand stories at once.

Some Khmer faces may tell a little more.

Until July 29 the Japanese artist Nobuaki Hirose will exhibit 18 paintings and six sketches in his exhibition Portraying Khmer at The Insider Gallery located at the InterContinental Hotel in Phnom Penh.

As accurate in detail as photographs and sensible in their notion of subtle changes in a person’s expressions, some of the works appear more real than reality.

“If you try to be honest with yourself the piece of art becomes an accurate interpretation of yourself and the subject itself”, Hirose explains when he is asked about his artistic marksmanship. “Each of the portraits that comprise his show at the Insider Gallery is unbelievably expressive and has an independent identity and existence, revealing the mind and soul of the subject,” Jenny Tchen the InterContinental’s marketing communications manager said about Hirose’s exhibits.

Arguably, with the analytical eye of an outsider, the artist could capture what he saw on Cambodian people’s faces with more intricacy and enthusiam than a local.

One painting shows a young girl looking up to the painter from the corner of her eyes. Her look reveals shyness, curiosity, and above all, dignity. “Portraying the people’s dignity is very important to my husband”, says the artist’s wife Keiko Hirose.

It is an aura with which all of her husband’s paintings radiate. When asked what he sought in the people’s faces on his travels through the Kingdom the painter speaks of eternity. When asked what he found, he speaks of genuine identity.

“I am fascinated by the history, truth and destiny all Cambodians have to bear but not openly notice,” he says.

As a student of architecture at the Waseda University in Japan the artist began painting, always being very productive, turning out a great number of oil paintings and exhibiting in Japan, Kenya and Tansania. Hirose taught mathematics before he finally left Japan to live in Cambodia two years ago. Here he says he has found “eternity and soul”.

Hirose does not only create art in the Kingdom but also works as a coordinator for the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA).

As for the Cambodian people who visit the exhibition he has a clear intention: “I want them to find themselves through the pictures. After all the pictures can be seen as a mirror that reflects their existence.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Julius Thiemann at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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