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Female artist wows Phnom Penh

Siem Reap’s 21-year-old photography student Try Sophal was a big winner on June 24 at the awards ceremony and exhibition of the You Khin Memorial Women’s Art Prize at Java Café and Gallery in Phnom Penh.

The prize was initiated by the US embassy and JavaArts to inspire and encourage Cambodian women to express themselves and recognise the power and importance of women in the arts.

Both established and student artists were invited to apply, with two prizes available – the first prize of US$800 was earmarked for the best of the established artists, and a second prize of $400 was set aside for the best student.

Try Sophal took the best student’s prize with a photograph titled The Life of a Young Artist, depicting an apsara dancing girl preparing for performance.

Try Sophal is an Anjali House kid, one of about 80 children who come from needy backgrounds and are nurtured by the NGO.

Anjali House was created by the Angkor Photo Association, and each year, as part of the Angkor Photo Festival, international photographers supervise photography workshops for the Anjali children’s project, with support from Canon.

Try Sophal participated in last year’s workshop and was selected as one of eight students to work one-on-one with a well-known photographer. She was teamed with the up-and-coming young Indian photographer Sohrab Hura, and her award-winning photo was a result of that collaboration.

But she almost didn’t make it. Samuel Flint, director of Anjali, told 7Days that she was originally too scared to enter and had to be coaxed.

Then came the phone call from the organisers to tell her that her photo had been selected as part of the awards night exhibition, and that her presence would therefore be required in Phnom Penh for the occasion.

After the call, she apparently was too excited to sleep that night.

And of course the excitement level escalated dramatically on June 24 when she was named winner of the Student Prize.

News of the win came on top of more good news last week that meant she’ll be able to continue her school studies and her photography training.

There’d been increasing pressure from her impoverished parents for her to quit schooling and work full time to help support the family.

Flint said, “Ultimately it would have meant her dropping out of school before finishing secondary school. With her family’s background, lifestyle and no qualifications, her options were very limited. I found her a part-time job which allowed her to attend school but not attend the full Anjali House program – only English classes and some extracurricular classes like the photo workshops.

“But we have now found her a sponsor (a long time supporter of Anjali House), which provides her with enough income to pay for her studies, travel and living costs.

“This meant she could stop working about a week or so ago and is now back with us full-time. She studies in grade seven at Angkor High School.

“Her father makes some money making and selling pillows to local markets, but too little to support the family. Two brothers became monks and her older sisters were married off with no education. The youngest three are also with us at Anjali.”No doubt the $400 prize money Sophal collected will also help her cause.

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