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Contemporary artists storm city

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A work by self-taught Svay Ken.

The December 9 grand kick-off of the Visual Arts Open (VAO) at New Art Gallery in

Phnom Penh is intended to give contemporary Cambodian artists a rare chance to expose

their work to the public.

The exhibitions are scheduled to be held simultaneously at eight Phnom Penh venues

throughout December and will feature the wide-ranging work of 19 artists - all of

whom work and live in Cambodia.

The exhibitions were funded by a July auction in which curators and VAO organizers

Linda Saphan and Sopheap Pich-who named their organization Saklapel after the Cambodian

slang for the visual arts "Selapak" - helped raise $3,440 for the exhibition.

Saphan said the VAO is an attempt to strengthen artistic production and provide a

more dynamic contemporary art scene in a country known almost solely for its traditional

arts. She also expressed excitement about the artistic talent in Cambodia.

One artist, Svay Ken, began painting in his sixties and sold his early works to tourists.

He has evolved into an internationally renowned artist.

"What is so inspirational for us is having met a well-known and self-taught

artist like Svay Ken," said Saphan. "His work embodies very special qualities."

The exhibition will also feature modern artists such as Hen Sophal, known for his

melancholic paintings of nighttime Phnom Penh, and Chhoeun Rithy, who specializes

in dilapidated buildings that have the unfortunate tendency of completely collapsing

before his paintings are finished.

Also present will be the work of Suos Sodavy who is returning to Cambodia after spending

10 years in Hungary studying painting.

The artists have set prices of the art works that range from $3.50 to $1,200 and

a 44-page catalogue will be available in the eight exhibition spots.

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