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Some of the artwork created by Leang Seckon, in his studio last week.
Some of the artwork created by Leang Seckon, in his studio last week. Vandy Muong

Foreign influences on country focus of exhibit

A series of 11 mixed-media paintings by contemporary artist Leang Seckon will be unveiled tonight at Java Cafe and Gallery.

The exhibition, Influence: The New Ages, explores both the effects of foreign influence on Cambodian culture and – like much of the contemporary artist’s work – the influence of the nation’s modern history on its society.

Last week, Seckon explained that the pieces in the new exhibition reflect the realities of Cambodia across generations, and the ways in which individuals are influenced by their environment. “I think I get influence from people I know,” Seckon said. “Whenever I talk to a Cambodian or a foreigner, I at least learn from them.”

One of the paintings captures the change in Khmer music since the 1950s: from strictly traditional, to heavily influenced by foreign rhythms – the rock ’n’ roll era – to today’s pop.

Another draws on darker themes, showing a skeletal Buddha statue – made of leather that is sewn to the canvas – against a backdrop of sinister figures with pineapple heads.

The depiction of the Buddha represents the sacrifice of forsaking a life of comfort, while the backdrop alludes to the Khmer Rouge regime, whose rulers were said to have “as many eyes as a pineapple”, Seckon explained.

But the painting also features scaffolding that represents Cambodia’s quick development. “It reflects the influences of this age and how it is changing,” Seckon said.

Many of the artist’s paintings use leather – like that of a traditional shadow puppet – to represent their subject.

But Seckon also makes use of other materials such as US and Chinese currency as the backdrop to Central Market, or copies of S-21 headshots around Independence Monument.

“As an artist, I made it from my heart to show the use of US currency in the Cambodian market and from that how Cambodia is influenced by other countries,” Seckon said.

Despite this political and social commentary within the paintings, Seckon explained that he wasn’t seeking a reaction.

“I never think about positive and negative [reactions to] my painting, I talk about reality. It is my concept and it cannot agree with different people because they also have their own ideas,” he said.

Influence: The New Ages opens with a reception tonight at 6:30pm at Java Cafe and Gallery, #56 Sihanouk Boulevard. The exhibition runs through November 19.

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