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Artist uses nature for canvas

Kim Hak says his drawings on banyan leaves require a little more preparation but the results are more than worth the time and trouble


Artist Kim Hak carefully paints on banyan leaves, which he collects from pagodas, in villages and when he travels overseas.

KIM Hak, 27, never formally studied art, but he has drawn and painted since childhood.

For much of his life, his approach was similar to many other aspiring artists - pen or paint on paper.

However, a chance meeting with a friend led him to a more unconventional medium-banyan leaves.


started drawing my pictures on banyan leaves in 2003 when I lived in

Siem Reap," he said.  "One day I went for a walk with a friend and I

picked up a banyan leaf. He told me about Buddha and the banyan tree,

and I thought that I could draw a Buddha picture on the leaf."

His first attempts were challenging as he got adjusted to drawing on such an unusual material.

"When I first tried it, I saw that it could be very nice. I started working step by step and then I was able to do it," he said.


a child, Kim Hak spent much of his free time trying to draw pictures of

the people and things around him, such as birds, flowers and monks.

"I wasn't able to draw real pictures, so I began inventing things," he said.

Now years later, he still tries to incorporate themes of daily life into his banyan leaf art.


I've made more than 100 pictures on banyan leaves," he said. "In one of

them, I compare a lotus flower with Cambodian children. The petals

enclose the flower just as parents protect their children. When the

flower blooms, the petals are free, just as children become independent

when they can support themselves."

Drawing on banyan leaves requires a little more preparation than other forms of art, Kim Hak explained.


is different than drawing on paper because I have to be careful not to

break the leaves," he said. "The break very easily, and each leaf is


I've made more than 100 pictures on banyan leaves.

He said he collects the leaves at pagodas and in villages.


I gather them fresh, I have to keep them in books or newspapers to

remove the moisture. This can take up to 10 or 15 days," he said.

He even collects them when he travels in countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, Burma and Laos.


I started, I didn't know that there were any other artists using banyan

leaves," he said. "Now I know that some artists are using them in other

countries, but I am the first person in Cambodia to do this."


public's response to his banyan art is promising, Kim Hak said. "My

first exhibition was in early 2008 in Battambang province. I held a

second one at the Reyum Institute in Phnom Penh, and many people

expressed interest in my pictures."

Kim Hak expects to open a new exhibit in Siem Reap at the end of the year or in early 2009.


An example of Kim Hak's banyan-leaf art.

"The name of the exhibit will be ‘Take a Break', which refers to the time I spend drawing the pictures," he said.

Kim Hak enjoys his art but hasn't let it go to his head.


proud of what I've accomplished and happy that I am the one person

doing this in Cambodia, but I don't want to boast. Others can do this,

maybe even better than I can. I always want to learn from other


With the initial success of his banyan art, Kim Hak is

looking to branch out with drawings on other kinds of leaves in coming

years and hopes that people outside Cambodia will start taking notice.

In the meantime, he says he will continue his art in the spare moments he gets after work at a tourism company.


really hope my pictures will eventually show overseas," he said. "I

would like to promote my works to everyone. I've struggled to gain

attention with my art, and I believe strongly in my abilities."



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