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Chhan Dina’s work (bottom left) is colourful and figurative, while Chhim Sothy’s (above) is sometimes traditional and other times contemporary. In Robam, Suos Sodavy goes for full abstraction (bottom right). Photo supplied
Chhim Sothy’s work is sometimes traditional and other times contemporary. Photo supplied

Trio of artists put dance on canvas

Three acclaimed Cambodian visual artists – representing three generations – will display their work together on Tuesday in a celebration of traditional dance at Meta House. Robam (‘Dance’ in Khmer) will feature 11 oil paintings and one sculpture, each depicting Apsara dancers.

The artists – Dina Chhan, Chhim Sothy and Suos Sodavy – are some of Cambodia’s most accomplished, and have exhibited extensively abroad.

The three began organising their group exhibition after they were each honoured at the regional CLMTV Contemporary Art Awards at Mahasarakham University in Thailand in February, with Dina receiving the ‘young artist’ award for the Kingdom.

Suos Sodavy (left), Chhan Dina and Chhin Sothy.
Suos Sodavy (left), Chhan Dina and Chhin Sothy. Heng Chivoan

With little over a month to prepare, the 31-year-old painter and sculptor took the quick turnaround – as well as her experienced collaborators – as a challenge. “For them, it’s like, ‘Yeah, I can paint in one day,’” Dina said with a laugh this week. “For me, I’m still working.”

The artists each paint in different styles. Sodavy – a professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts and the oldest of the group at 60 – was trained in Hungary, and usually works in abstraction.

Sothy, who studied in Phnom Penh during the 1980s and currently serves in the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, flits between the traditional and the contemporary. And Dina is known for her vibrant colours and brash human forms.

In Robam, the artists’ work coalesces in a distilled theme: the form and movement of traditional dance.

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Chhan Dina’s work is colourful and figurative. Photo supplied

Dina’s canvasses are bathed in red and blue. She completed one sculpture for the exhibition, fired in clay, reinforced with concrete and painted in gold leaf. She says was inspired equally by the bas reliefs of Angkor and brass sculptures she saw at London’s British museum, but mostly by the dancers themselves.

“I like the emotion. It’s powerful,” she said, pointing to her red-robed dancer. “This woman, she is the queen of Cambodia.”

“Interpretations can be different,” Sothy piped in. “I’m not a dancer, but I like the dancing movements.” For Robam, three of his works verge on abstraction, while one is quite traditional: two dimensional, and intricately detailed.

Sodavy grew animated when speaking about Apsara dance. The theme was, after all, his idea. “I love so much the Cambodian dance. When you see the girl dancing, you fly with her,” he said, adding that he also enjoyed the interplay of one art, oil painting, portraying another.

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In Robam, Suos Sodavy goes for full abstraction. Photo supplied

His paintings are fully abstract, with forms based in individual gestures, or kbach, and present a striking contrast with the others’.

For the experienced artists who usually delve into social meaning with their work, Robam presents a unique opportunity for pure collaboration – and, the trio hope, to show a younger generation of artists the continuity in contemporary Cambodian art.

“It’s a big opportunity for us to share the experience, especially with the young generation,” Dina said. “It’s good to see this: that Cambodia grows, slowly.”

Robam opens at 6pm on Tuesday, April 26, at Meta House, #37 Sothearos Boulevard. The group exhibition will run through May 15.

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