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Artist’s tribute to faraway mothers

Artists from Battambang’s circus and arts organisation Phare Ponleu Selpak will display their works in an exhibition opening tomorrow night at the French Cultural Centre (CCF) in Phnom Penh.

Tor Vutha, 36, a teacher of visual arts who helped found PPS, has 20 sculptures and another 21 paintings in the exhibition entitled Mother’s Love. Some of his sculptures show pregnant women while others show mothers tending to their baby.

The idea comes from the artist’s personal story, having been brought up in a large family with 11 brothers and sisters. Tor Vutha says that because there were so many children, his mother had to shoulder a large burden, struggling to give them enough food, clothes and education.

Even though it wasn’t easy to raise so many children, Tor Vutha never heard his mother complain.

“I saw how hard my mother worked to raise us, give us food, education, as well as clothes.

“Since the first day that a child grows in her abdomen, a mother has already given the child her hopefulness, compassion, and love,” said Tor Vutha. “Mothers always pay attention to every movement of their children, whether sleeping, walking, standing or eating.”

Yet his sculptures don’t just salute the courage of his own mother, but represent all mothers who protect their children.

He hopes his sculptures will provoke a reaction in young people who live far from their mother, and hopes they will remember their mother’s sacrifices. He admits that he misses his own mother, who lives in Banteay Meanchey province while he works in Battambang.

“While our country is lacking in jobs, children always have to leave their mother to look for work somewhere else. They don’t have time to take care their mother like sons or daughters used to.”

Tor Vutha has been inspired in his beautiful curved forms by statues in graveyards by indigenous tribes in Rattanakiri province and African traditions, choosing to carve in Cambodian woods.

Tomorrow during the exhibition’s opening, Tor Vutha plans to stage an installation by sitting silently next to one of his sculptures. He’ll be inviting members of the audience to write down their thoughts about a mother’s love on his clothes.

Also opening at the CCF tomorrow night is an exhibition called Bamboo Train by a trio of artists from PPS, Srey Bandaul, Loeum Lorn and Chan Pagna.

Srey Bandaul, another former Cambodian refugee from Thai camps who was the founder of PPS together with Tor Vutha, says that he chose this topic because the bamboo trains – which have transported thousands since the 1950s – will soon come to the end of the line, as the makeshift trains are due to be replaced by a regular train service.

“Many people in Battambang province have been using the bamboo trains since they were born. In past times, they used paddles to push it and later on we used boat engines. Bamboo trains are our traditional vehicle,” said Srey Bandaul.  

He plans to bring a traditional bamboo train, called a norrie, from Battambang to the exhibition at CCF, installing it under a large mosquito net. “We’re putting in under the net because we want to show that the bamboo train is sleeping. It’s near the end for the bamboo train, it’s dying and the train inside the net is representing its corpse,” he said.

Loeum Lorn will show his photographs while Chan Pagna shows video arts. The exhibition opens tomorrow at 7pm and continues until April 28 at CCF, 218 Street 184.

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