L ocal artist Svay Ken is making his contribution to preserving the culture of
his ancestors - a painting exhibition of scenes of everyday life in rural
A farmer carrying a water can, people dining at the Royal Hotel
and farmers working their rice paddies, are some of the scenes Ken has brought
to life on canvas at the New Art gallery display.
Some show city life and
depict cyclo drivers, but his most popular work is of guests dining at the Royal
Hotel, where Ken worked for most of his life, as a waiter and caretaker. Many
guests who stayed at the hotel during that era have bought his
"Painting was my hobby," said Ken, 61, who began painting in
1991, following in the footsteps of grandfather, Hol Touch, a well-known
"I just bought my paints and canvases in the local
market and worked at my paintings in my spare time," said Ken, whose works are
primitive in style, and exuberant in tone, with bold colors and strong
Ken was born into a rural family but moved to Phnom Penh to
find work. Although a waiter for 40 years, most of his works are of farmers and
"I want to preserve the culture of my ancestors," said Ken.
"For me, farmers are the symbols of Khmer culture. Khmer life is
One strong picture shows a thin, gray-haired farmer, carrying
water cans. "That man is a worker during the Pol Pot regime," explained Ken,
remembering the dark period when the whole country worked as forced labor in the
fields, and his father and five of his uncles and aunts died. The farmer's grim
expression, with closed eyes, is counter-balanced by the abundance of foliage
that surrounds him, painted in vivid greens and yellows.