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Em Pisey stands in front of his design. Pisey is a 22-year-old RUFA student originally from Prey Veng
Em Pisey stands in front of his design. Pisey is a 22-year-old RUFA student originally from Prey Veng. NICK STREET

Young artists honoured in second annual competition

More than 100 young Cambodian artists will today hear which of them have been honoured as the country’s best, as the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) holds its second annual Cambodian Fine Art Contest at the university building.

Some 137 contestants are competing for the prizes, which will be awarded for the best painting, sculpture and design.

The afternoon before the event, Em Pisey, a 22-year-old RUFA student originally from Prey Veng, stood confidently by his design: in a lifelike image painted over with bright neon colours, a girl is set against a vibrant background of bright orange and green flowers.

“I feel very confident in myself, because I’ve tried my best to get this experience,” he said.

Last year’s winners included Sreang Pisey, who took home an award for an Angkorian-esque sculpture that resembles a three-dimensional bas relief.

The organisers behind this year’s event, held in conjunction with the Japanese embassy, said they were looking for originality in the designs.

“We want to progress Cambodian fine arts into the future,” said Ly Sary, the 31-year-old assistant event organiser.

His role is to aid the judge and chief organiser Yamada Takakazu, 55, who is also a professor of painting at RUFA.

Takakazu, a Japanese artist who first came to Cambodia in 1999 looking for artistic inspiration, said it is essential to support originality in the arts, adding that although Cambodia’s art history is cherished throughout the world, the future of Cambodian art is undecided.

The contest has more than doubled in scope since the first competition, with more than 400 applicants compared with last year’s 200. A panel of nine judges will score contestants on technique, concept and composition. In addition to Takakazu, judges include representatives from RUFA, the embassy of Japan, as well as several independent Cambodian and French artists.

“We need these skills from other countries, because here in Cambodia. We don’t have much education,” said Sary, stressing the importance of revitalising artistic energy lost since the pre-Khmer Rouge years.

“A lot of art in Cambodia has disappeared, and a lot of art has almost disappeared.”

For many of the artists, the exhibition is more about sharing their work than winning a prize. Neam Sopheap, a 23-year-old RUFA student painter from Kampong Speu, said she will have ‘won’ the contest regardless of the final results.

“I would love to be the winner, but I feel that I already am a winner because I tried my best.”

The Cambodian Fine Arts Competition will be held today at 3:30pm at the Royal University of Fine Arts on Street 178. An exhibition of last year’s winning works will be launched at 6pm at Meta-House, #37 Sothearos Boulevard, and will run until October 15.

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