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Painter sees blue skies as an omen of a clouded future for humanity

Srey Bandol hopes that his cloud drawings awaken people to the dangers of climate change

According to traditional Khmer belief, catching sight of a human-shaped cloud is a sign of good luck. Conversely, clouds in the form of animals are thought to be an omen of bad things to come.

But what does it mean when there are no clouds at all?

Artist Srey Bandol, who has been watching the sky with a creative eye for more than a decade, says that in the past few years he has noticed fewer clouds than before, a signal that even worse luck might be coming our way than any animal shape might indicate.

“In my youth, wherever I walked I looked up at the sky waiting for clouds to drift my way, hoping for them to come and cool me down,” he says.

Now more often than not, he has observed, there are no clouds, just a dark blue sky over Cambodia. Bandol takes this as a sign that nature is changing, and not for the better.

“Since 1997 I have been observing the sky, taking note of different shapes to draw someday,” says Bandol, who is programme director of Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang, a nongovernmental organisation that provides arts training to Cambodian youths from difficult social backgrounds.

Five months ago he finally started a long-planned series of cloud drawings, using pencil and sooty residue from an oil lamp to create the images. He has now completed 26 drawings, which are on display at Hotel De La Paix in Siem Reap from February 8 to April 8.

Bandol says he wants to use his art to remind people what clouds used to look like and how the sky, and nature, has changed under the influence of global warming.

“Years ago when I looked at the sky there were beautiful colours and lovely shapes that inspired me to want to draw,” he says. “But in the past few years I haven’t been able to see any beauty in the sky.”

The drawings show clouds of many shapes, which Bandol says can convey a range of emotions and meanings. “Clouds can make me feel worried, cheerful or scared. Sometimes it’s just their pure beauty that attracts my eye,” he says.

At a deeper level, he hopes his drawings of the clouds of yesteryear can alert people to the dangers of climate change.

“We don’t know how long the clouds have been drifting across the sky, and I don’t know how much longer they will continue to drift,” he says enigmatically. “But I think people, governments and NGOs should pay more attention to the environment and to the reduction of climate change.”

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