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Etching an art form’s future

Four months after being flown in from Mexico, the first etching press in Cambodia is busy churning out prints at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, tended to by a group of final-year students and members of a Mexican artists’ collective who hope the art form will catch on across the country. 

Artist Fernando Aceves Humana, who heads the La Buena Impression (Good Impression) artists’ collective in his home state of Oaxaca, told The Phnom Penh Post etching had been adopted in the 1970s by many Mexican artists who saw it as a cheap, easily accessible form of spreading political ideas in an artistic way.

He said he hoped to see the same thing happen here.

“Our hope is that there are many institutions that want to buy an etching press or to make art with one, now the students here have the capacity to teach others how to use it.

“They are the only qualified printers in Cambodia, which is an asset for the school.

“This is the first etching press in Cambodia, and it’s an open studio for people who want to learn and artists who want to be trained.”

Etchings are created on the US$6,000 printing press, purchased by Humana in Mexico and shipped to the university earlier this year, by first leaking strong acids onto metal plates to engrave designs in their surface, then using the machine to print out paper copies of the engraved plates.

Fifteen students at the university who volunteered to learn how to use the etching press earlier this year were now so adept in its use that they kept the machine churning out art around the clock, Humana said.

“Usually a professional studio prints no more than 20 prints a day. Yesterday, we printed around 70.”

An exhibition of etchings created by students involved in Humana’s program will go on public display at the university from noon tomorrow. Several were designed by artist Vann Nath, who visited the campus to see the machine in action.

Despite feeling nervous at the public display of his etchings, student Prom Putvisal said he had enjoyed the experience.

“I found it difficult to make them in the beginning because the process was new, but soon I felt on top of it.”

Watching his students master the art of etching was a reward in itself, Humana said, but he hopes they will teach others and spread the popularity of etching as an art form across Cambodia.
“We’ve provided the technique, but the students are going to find their own way and surprise us.”

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