In these difficult times where the importance of caring, showing kindness and sharing matters more than ever, artists Chea Serey and Adana Mam-Legros felt the need to demonstrate the principles of hope and solidarity to people by integrating their art into an act of sharing by holding an exhibition and art auction aimed at raising funds for local NGOs that are working on social and psychological issues.

The initial idea for the The Art of Sharing exhibition came about in early 2020 when the pandemic was just beginning. Adana says that a lot of time was spent working on the paintings – especially on the four special collaborative paintings – as well as the 18 individual art works that went into the exhibition.

After many weeks of work, in January 2021 the 22 paintings were hung in Sosoro museum and the exhibition was officially opened to the public.

Due to the situation with the pandemic, a digital exhibition was opened simultaneously alongside the physical one, so that people could digitally experience it in interactive-3D as if they were there walking through the exhibition hall of Sosoro museum.

Twenty-one out of the 22 artworks were sold at auction. A collaborative piece called Bewilderment brought in the largest bid, selling for $22,500.

“At 140cm by 140cm, Bewilderment is a rather large painting and our first collaboration together. We had two artists giving different interpretations of the imagery but in general we wanted to talk about the importance of mental health,” Adana tells The Post.

Serey, a renaissance woman with many talents, elaborates further, explaining some of the symbolism behind her artwork.

“The dark gloomy sky is contrasting with colourful balloons, which are symbols of celebration and joy. Hurt and pain and happiness and joy all co-exist together, but it is up to us which of those we want to focus on.

“There is always light – symbolised by the balloon – at the end of the tunnel, which is the gloomy sky. But we always need to keep hope alive and remain positive,” she says.

Adana reveals that for years, depression didn’t allow her to truly see the world.

“Cancer became my salvation, liberating me from all fears and it pushed me to embrace life. Confronting your worst nightmare is the path to ultimate freedom. Only then could I see the beauty of what life has to offer me.’’

The exhibition has been a great success and Serey says she is delighted with the outcome of the charity auction of the paintings displayed in The Art of Sharing and that she is very much humbled by the support they have received.

On March 24, three local NGOs – HelpAge Cambodia, Transcultural Psychosocial Organisation Cambodia (TPO) and Skillful Parenting Cambodia (ICS-SP) – each received a check for $20,000 out of a total of $60,000 raised by the exhibition.

Adana (second left) and Chea Serey (centre) donates the proceeds from their art auction to three local NGOs. PHOTO SUPPLIED

“We set out to create a positive impact and to inspire people, and I’d say we have achieved both with the amount of funds we have managed to raise and with the messages we wanted to convey.

“My heartfelt thanks to everyone who came to our exhibition, bought the paintings or the souvenirs and donated to support our cause,” she says.

After receiving the funds, each of the organisations that were donated to were extremely grateful to Serey and Adana for what both have done for them.

A representative from one of the NGOs says this will go a long way to support their work and they hope that this exhibition will serve as a powerful example for what Cambodians can accomplish through charity and that many others will follow in their footsteps to create a real impact on many areas of Cambodian society.

NGOs in Cambodia receive most of their funding from western sources such as the US and the EU. During the pandemic, a lot of those donations were reduced or eliminated entirely because of the economic disruption occurring in those donor countries and it has seriously affected many Cambodian NGOs’ operations and programmes.

“Right now we have a good opportunity to show solidarity within the country by having Cambodians helping Cambodia. One obvious thing that all three NGOs have in common is that they are all local ones. Their activities and programmes impact a good variety of people and are things we’re interested in promoting,” Adana says.

For instance, TPO is a leading NGO in the field of mental health care and psychosocial support.

Adana says: “This is a field of work we want to support as people are struggling with the pandemic and all the anxiety, tensions and pressure could really affect their overall mental health.”

HelpAge works almost exclusively with vulnerable elderly populations who are in need of support right now and ICS-SP has the unique mission of improving parenting skills and helping young children grow up in more nurturing and positive family environments.

Adana says that with the current situation it would be a complex undertaking to launch another fundraising event similar to what they just did. While there’s no clear plan to repeat this style of fundraiser on the horizon, they will always keep their minds open to things they can potentially do to contribute to a better society.

“My future project would be to try to find ways to help prevent a further outbreak of Covid-19. As for my art, multiple projects will be launched in the near future including a new collaboration with artist Desmond Doyle on a project called See the Big Picture that will be based in Austria,” Adana says.

Adana says she sincerely hopes that the themes of The Art of Sharing will resonate with others and that Cambodia will see more acts of artistic expression as well as charitable contributions even in the midst of an apparently worsening pandemic.

She also wishes to commend the invaluable behind the scenes support from Raksa Koma Foundation, a non-profit organisation founded by her fellow exhibition artist Serey, whose coordination and support in setting up the exhibition in cooperation with the Sosoro museum were of vital importance in the success of these efforts.

“I would also add that as the president and co-founder of Generation C Cambodia, the pandemic has shown the weaknesses inherent to our modern civilisation, having impacted our civilisation at every level. We have to understand that the pandemic and the sanitary and environmental crises are due to flaws in our modern global system.

“We have to prepare for the future. We must start with a sense of solidarity and fight for a shift in our understanding of the history of homo-sapiens as a species,” says Adana.