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Tevy talks about cows, Kahlo and kudos

Next Life I by Oeur Sokunteavy

A quick Googling of 29-year-old artist Oeur Sokuntevy will throw up all manner of praise. From being hailed as the kingdom’s finest painter, to being one of the most prolific, courageous and ground-breaking artists in modern Cambodia.

But what a search engine won’t churn out is Oeur Sokuntevy’s palpable passion for what she does, and the heart-on-sleeve attitude that makes her work so deeply personal.

Ahead of the launch of her latest exhibition, Love, Death, Dreams at Siem Reap’s Hotel de la Paix, 7Days caught up with Sokuntevy – Tevy for short – to discuss everything from cows and Kahlo, to ex-boyfriends and inspiration.

“The theme of Love, Death, Dreams is the story of being a woman,” says Tevy. “It’s all about how I feel, it’s myself.”

Despite laying bare so much of herself through her art, Tevy says she doesn’t shy away from sharing these intimacies with the world. “Everybody has a personal story, they just don’t want to tell it. Why not? Listen to my story. It’s me in there, it’s my face in there. I’m not telling by words, I’m telling by drawing.”

Originally from Battambang, Tevy moved to the capital in 2007 after art school to pursue her career. “I met Dara, the owner of Java Arts, who was looking for new work and and let me have a show there.”

Tevy was well received in the arts world, but not so much at home – her parents did not agree with her career path, possibly due to the modern, often explicit nature of her paintings.

“I’m a woman. I don’t agree with the idea that women have to stay at home, that men get to earn the money. I want women and men to be equal.”

Tevy says that she pays little heed to critics. “What can they do? All people can do is say something. They can’t destroy my paintings or my ideas.”

For Tevy, inspiration comes mainly from within. “For me, contemporary art means I show what I see and how I feel. It’s in the now. When I draw I feel like a woman – it might remind me about my grandmother, or about a past relationship, but I just draw my feelings. “

Speaking on past relationships, Tevy says that there are two men who feature prominently in her work, forming the “Love” aspect of her current collection. “I draw about two men, a past relationship and a recent relationship, and I draw with both guys in mind. Everybody goes through this. With the old one, we had a good time, but it came to an end. When I was with him, I drew about our connection. And with the new guy, I draw about the new love. He’s okay about it, he likes it!”

And in case she hits an artistic block, Tevy jokes that she likes to create a bit of drama to kickstart her creative juices. “Sometimes I try to make my life a little bit complicated; then I get the ideas.”

As for the “Death” and “Dreams” segments in the collection, Tevy says these are intertwined with love. “When you love, and it finishes, you feel like it’s a death. The dreams are what you wish for, they’re your vision.”

Animals also feature in her work, often conjoined with humans.

“Humans and animals are not so different," she says.

"All the animals depicted are, say, good, or bad or lazy...a cow is lazy, so I might put it on a man’s face – the animals are how I paint my emotions.”

“The colours also show how I feel."

Tevy is broadening her portfolio to include video and installation pieces. Working with the German environmental project SurVivArt, she hopes to tackle the issue of waste and consumption in Cambodia.

“People just buy and buy and buy. I’m collecting objects from families that they don’t use, that another family might need. I’ve made a video, and then I’m setting up a flea market – it’s about teaching people not to be wasteful.”

Despite frequent comparisons to Frida Kahlo, for her frank, quirky and highly personal imagery, and despite growing acclaim both internationally and at home, the talented painter is not letting the kudos go to her head.

“I don’t look for praise or to be famous. Every artist, every painting, it’s never wrong, they’re all good...I draw because I love to draw. I love what I’m doing, it’s my passion.”

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