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Artist draws on experience of Cambodian women

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Linda Saphan at the opening of her exhibition at Bophana Centre. Photo by: OU MOM

NEW York-based Cambodian artist Linda Saphan focuses on women in her exhibition of 21 drawings at Phnom Penh’s Bophana Centre this week.

Until Saturday, viewers can see her art, presented in three different series under the umbrella title Black is Black, each drawing in black pen representing her passion for Khmer culture.

Saphan and her family fled from the war in 1982 to Canada and France. “I loved drawing since I was five years old but my mother didn’t allow me to be an artist since she said artists didn’t have a secure future. So I began to study anthropology in Paris,” said the 36-year-old artist.

“After I graduated, I told my mother that I still wanted to be an artist, and I’ve managed to support myself through drawing since 2004,” she added.

Now living and working in New York’s Greenwich Village, Saphan has also exhibited her art in various exhibitions in Myanmar, France, Singapore, and the United States, promoting Cambodian culture and the arts.

Saphan suggested that Cambodian women have much in common with others around the world.

“I think we women have to work hard in both housework and outside the home in jobs, especially when we are married with children.

“But if we’ve any passion or talent, we shouldn’t give up. We must dare to show it to our families, to complete it to make us happy so that we can make our families happy as well,” she said.

When asked about the title Black is Black, Saphan explained: “When I drew those pictures, I used black pen but when looking at them, some people thought they were green, brown or other colours. So I said ‘black is black and women are women’.” Next laughing, she said: “Please don’t read too much into the meaning.”

At the exhibition opening last week, US Ambassador Carol Rodley said: “We want to take this opportunity through Linda’s story and her artwork to encourage young women to be ambitious and courageous. So many young women in Cambodia do not have the opportunity to pursue education and careers in contemporary art.

“That is why we have brought Linda back to Cambodia – so she can act as an example for other artists and encourage them to keep creating,” she added.

One series of drawings is titled  Incognito. “All the protective clothes create unrecognisable individuals. This anonymity gives a feeling of freedom in the city. Incognito depicts the Asian woman differently than an exotic and submissive object,” said Saphan.

Another series called Togetherness shows pregnant women and their babies. “There is no curve more beautiful in nature than the curve of a pregnant woman,” she said.

Black is Black runs until May 28 at Bophana Centre, 65 Street 200, Phnom Penh.

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