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Helping to reinstall art into Cambodian consciousness


A new exhibition at the Reyum Institute showcases
the inspiring work of one of its resident teachers

WE WANT TO USE PAINTINGS AS COMMUNICATION TOOLS TO EXPRESS LIFE VALUES.

KHUN Sovanrith and Venn Savat, two Cambodian contemporary painters, are presenting their latest works at Reyum Institute, open today from 5 to 8pm.

According to the two artists, the status of painting as a relatively new art form in Cambodia, especially when it comes to contemporary art, motivated them to contribute to the emerging national scene through this exhibition.

As a member of the first generation of painters trained at the School of Fine Arts following the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Venn Savat remarked that painting has been growing more prominent in Cambodian arts since the 1980s.

However, most Cambodians are still far more familiar with sculptural works, and thus his and Khun Sovanrith's commitment to art education will remain strong and proactive for the foreseeable future.

The exhibition at large consists of varying styles and themes, including sceneries, still lifes and abstract paintings. Buddhism is explicitly expressed throughout the exhibition, as shown by the series of lotus, Buddha and Nirvana paintings. The artists hope to send messages of peace to their audience through such works.

"When people are reminded of Nirvana, they will try to limit their demand and share what they have with others," Khun Sovanrith said.

The artists said the variety on offer in their exhibition aims to depict the big picture of Cambodian daily life.
"We want to use paintings as communication tools to express [Cambodian] life values," said Khun Sovanrith.

Photo by: Holly Pham
A thunderous depiction of a charging steed.

Photo by: Holly Pham
Buddhist imagery is a reoccurring theme in the pair’s work.

Increased opportunities
Currently working at Reyum as a teacher, Khun Sovanrith said he also wanted to provide more art-related opportunities as well as increased exposure to the public free of charge, particularly to Cambodian youth.

"Paintings do not draw much interest in Cambodia because the country is still impoverished.
"Most of my students [at Reyum Institute] are poor and not educated enough about arts," he said.

Before working at Reyum, Khun Sovanrith worked at the Department of Pegagogical Research within the Ministry of Education as a book illustrator from 1996 to 1999.

Though this experience drew him into art education, he was limited to producing black-and-white sketches that could be literally understood. Now with painting, he is free to be creative and use artistic abstractions to imply different messages and target different audience groups, a practice he feels is more fitting for an art teacher.

Khun Sovanrith has nine paintings, and Venn Savat fourteen, on display at Reyum. This exhibition marks Venn Savat's 20th exhibition and the sixth for Khun Sovanrith.

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