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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exhibition captures Cambodia's vanishing wood house heritage

Exhibition captures Cambodia's vanishing wood house heritage

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Nguon Sovan

Visitors to the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture inspect the art of Chhun Channa at the Battambang native’s debut exhibition, which runs until August 22.

A series of 26 exquisitely detailed watercolors depicting almost-extinct traditional Khmer houses have gone on show in Phnom Penh.

The exhibition by novice artist Chhum Channa was opened to the public on July 22 at the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture.

The 23-year-old from Battambang was inspired by the traditional houses in his native province. He grew up watching them disappear one by one and was moved to document the structures he admired so deeply.

“Living conditions for many people have improved and because those houses are old they have been demolished and concrete or modern houses built in their place,” he said.

“My paintings are to relive my childhood memories and to show younger generations about the Khmer houses on the verge of disappearance,” he added. 

His paintings are strikingly detailed, with the houses and the surrounding environment painted meticulously. In some paintings, the inhabitants of the house or their animals can be seen going about their daily lives. The paintings convey a sense of rural peace and beauty, which the artist clearly feels is in danger of being lost.

Channa studied painting with the French-backed NGO Phare Ponleu Silapak in Battambang province since 2000.

Exhibition organizer Preap Chanmara, a researcher for the Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture, told the Post the wooden houses in the paintings were likely built between 1920 and 1970 in Battambang’s Ek Phnom district.

“Today these houses have almost disappeared as people have … demolished many of these houses and rebuilt concrete or modern homes,” he said, adding that it was a perfect moment for an artist to document the structures before they completely disappear.

 The paintings by Channa will be on display every evening until August 31, Chanmara said. The paintings are for sale and cost around $350 for a 45-by-44cm piece. 

“He has a lot of talent, patience and a dedication to painting,” said Chanmara.

“The paintings are very good, they are so vivid,” said Chan Sim, professor at the Faculty of Architecture of the Royal University of Fine Arts, who visited the gallery as the exhibition opened on July 22. “I really appreciate him creating these images because such paintings focusing on accuracy are frequently overlooked by many artists.”  

The Reyum Institute of Arts and Culture is at #47, Street 178, just north of the National Museum.

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