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Gallic fest brings food and art to the fore

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Royal University of Fine Arts student Dina Thun, 23, puts the finishing touches on a portrait, which will feature in the 90 Khmer Figures exhibition as part of French Week. Photograph: Ruth Keber/Phnom Penh Post

Art, history, and a hearty dose of Gallic food will be on the menu this week at French week – a festival celebrating the country’s ties with Cambodia, a relationship that organisers say holds strong despite the declining cultural influence.

The festival, which began last Friday and will run until Tuesday, March 12, showcases French culture, featuring free tastes of coffee and  cinema, an artistic tribute to King Father Norodom Sihanouk and an exhibition about the legacy of French scientist Louis Pasteur.

The influence of France has faded since its years as a protectorate, said Clementine Clabault, project manager of the French Chamber of Commerce and in charge of co-ordinating French Week.

Yet there is still an attachment to French culture among the Cambodian population due to the historic relationship, she said, adding that the event would pay homage to the country’s traditional attributes – “wine, romance, food and culture.”

“I think it is good to keep that alive; most of the clichés about France often end up being so true.”

This year’s festival will be the second time the event has been organised, after the first French Week in 2010.

One of the highlights of this year’s celebrations will be artist Ricardo Casal’s 90 Khmer Figures, an exhibition of 90 intimate oil portraits of a variety of Khmer people, which will open tomorrow at Sofitel.

The 50-year-old French artist worked for nine months with students from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) to create the exhibition – a memorial to the King Father.

The project was given the royal blessing by King Father Sihanouk and King Sihamoni, and the Royal Palace sent a letter to RUFA asking them to work with Casal. The idea behind the project was to have 90 portraits, one to represent each year of the King Father’s life.

When he died part-way through the project, it then became a memorial to him.

The intimate oil paintings portray Khmer people of a variety of ages, classes and genders.  

It was what Sihanouk wanted, to have all different kinds of Cambodian people living together happily, Casal said.

 The portraits will be sold to raise money for a number of charities, as well as equipment for the university.

Other events include free coffee tasting all week at Malongo coffee and a free screening of Piece Montee at Sofitel on Friday at 7pm.

There will be a chance to try French cuisine at a foie gras evening at Le Bouchon Wine Bar, from 6pm to 9pm on Thursday evening, and Sofitel will be putting on a French brunch on Sunday.

Celebrations continue into the beginning of next week, which will mark the 60th anniversary of the Pasteur Institute – created in 1953 to contribute to the improvement of public health through research, education and vaccinations, and named after the acclaimed French scientist.

An exhibition to mark the anniversary will feature a set of old photographs of the Institute as well as those from the present day alongside paintings and sculptures by Cambodian artists. The exhibition will open on Tuesday, March 12, at 6:30pm at Sofitel.

A sculpture of Louis Pasteur carved from stone by artists from Artisans d’Angkor will be  unveiled at the same time at the hotel.

For a full schedule of French Week events, see the French Chamber of Commerce’s website.



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