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Cambodia’s forgotten children inspire art show

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Fifteen years ago, most Cambodians were trapped in poverty. Life is better now for many, but the memory still pains children who grew up in the era.

Tonight, work by two Cambodian artists, Hour Seyha and Nget Chanpenh, will go on show at Romeet Gallery in Phnom Penh, sharing their experience of rural poverty as children, and the profound effect it has on young boys.

Seyha and Chanpenh both attended the same art school in Battambang province and produced work in oil paintings.

Seyha, 21, grew up in Oddar Meanchey province. His collection, Children in the Countryside, contains 17 works and depicts a series of young boys. Some are skinny or naked, with messy hair while others are hairless – the shy children from the countryside, according to Seyha.

He said: “All the times I visit my family in the countryside of Oddar Meanchey, I saw children who are so shy. They are not confident because they are not educated. Some children even become gangsters because they didn’t have the chance to attend school. I saw many Cambodian children like this, especially along the border.”

Chanpenh, 19, grew up in Banteay Meanchey province with five siblings but no father.

Now he has produced 16 paintings for a collection called During the Dark that shows portays his family in a number of ways which reconciles their communal and individual identities.

He worked as a rubbish collector, his sister worked in a Coca-Cola factory and even his pregnant mother worked.

When he was 13, he was sent to live with a nonprofit organisation in Battambang because he was considered to be a child labourer. They stopped him from living with his family because they could no longer feed him and sent him to work in Thailand even though he was only 15.

“I want to show that many people still lack of food and lack of shelter in Cambodia. From the past till today, many Cambodian people still have lived in the miserable situation. They struggle quite hard, even cross the border to Thailand to work though they are still underage,” Nget Chanpenh said.

Hour Seyha renders each image using small circular lines, which build in dimension. In some works, this technique combined with a heavy blocking of the negative space around the subject gives them a translucent appearance.

Kate O’Hara, the manager of Romeet Gallery said: “This perhaps suggests a vulnerability which is fitting given Seyha’s belief that with limited access to quality education and extreme poverty the children of the countryside as are among the most marginalised people in nation,” Kate said.

The exhibition opens at 6:30pm at Romeet Gallery tonight and will run until September 3. Entrance is free.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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