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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exhibition celebrates the lives of bar girls

Exhibition celebrates the lives of bar girls

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Artist Fleur Childs spent a year hanging out with the hostesses at

Zapata bar, and the resulting portraits reveal the strength and

intelligence of 'The Girls'

Camilla Bjerrekaer

Artist Fleur Childs hopes her portraits reflect the unique personalities of each of ‘the girls’ from Zapata bar.

The Girls is an exhibition of paintings by emerging Australian artist Fleur Childs opening at Java Arts Cafe and Gallery tonight.

The

nine paintings portray some of the women who have worked as hostesses

at popular night-time venue Zapata and represent over a year's of the

artist's work.

Fleur was inspired to paint the portraits after she

started hanging out with "the girls" at Zapata bar shortly after she

arrived in Phnom Penh two years ago.

"[The girls] always made me

feel welcome and loved to dance with me. I watched them greet male

customers, flirt and entertain them, always hoping for [a free] drink,"

she said.

There is a story behind each of the paintings.

"The

process was not about making a statement but rather to record.

Hopefully something of each of these women's unique personalities comes

through from each canvas."

While Fleur is quick to admit that she is

aware that these women all want to change their lives, she believes

that approaching their choices and circumstances from a Western

feminist perspective is very problematic.

"I have talked to other

[Western] girls who'd been to hostess bars, and they said they found it

difficult because they pitied the hostesses. I'm not naive about the

downsides of their job. But looking into their strong, animated and

beautiful faces, I couldn't dare pity them.

"Instead I asked if I could paint their portraits and was thrilled when they said yes," she said.

In

a country where the majority of the population struggles to make ends

meet, this exhibition is not intended as an expose or a mournful

gesture but rather as a tribute to these beautiful, bright and

resourceful women who entertain men every night, said Fleur.

"Their beauty is their commodity - not the only one but the most important and ephemeral requirement of the job."

"At

the end of the sitting, I offered them a small amount of money to go

out and buy themselves dinner. They refused, calling me ‘sister'. They

wouldn't even let me buy them a drink," she said.

"Seeing the girls come to life on the canvas was a gradual process," said Fleur.

"I think the big moment will be when [the portraits] leave my little studio and go out into the public domain."

The exhibition opens at Java Art Cafe and Gallery tonight and runs until November 9.

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