Drawings in pencil on white canvas aren’t something seen very often in galleries these days, perhaps because of the subdued and understated nature of the technique, but one artist – Koem Keosocheat – purposely avoided indulging in colour for her latest exhibition, White, so as not to obscure the intricate details of her creations.
White – which just wrapped up its run at Meta House – was her third exhibition in four years after graduating in 2018 from the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Her first two exhibitions were Eyes of Mercy and Why do I? – both of which featured works that used watercolours and oil paints on canvas. All three exhibitions dealt with themes like culture, tradition, religion, family, and especially gender equality in Cambodian culture.
Keosocheat left her hometown of Kampot in 2014 for Phnom Penh to study art and become an artist – something that her neighbours in the province said a woman should not do.
“My passion for drawing has always been something deeply rooted in me since I was little. Thankfully, my parents have been my number one supporters on my journey despite the opinions that were going around held by a certain group of people with a traditionalist mindset and what they had to say about me choosing this path.
“They used to say girls can’t really draw and this career is more suitable for boys. However, I don’t bother with those stereotypes. I didn’t let it stop me from moving forward because this is what I love. I want to be able to continue walking in this journey and develop my talents.
“I turn the negative comments to positive motivation. I want to push myself to work even harder to prove the value and utility of artistic talents in a broader sense. I hope one day they could be more open and understand the benefits, the value and the crucial role art plays in the whole of society,” Keosocheat tells The Post.
She says she is also grateful that she knows a lot of people in the art world here and she has had many other galleries contact her to showcase her work but she says she hasn’t been able to produce anything new yet.
Keosocheat says that being a new artist trying to make a living is difficult and it depends upon sales of her artwork and in order to raise more funds she has to produce more art.
“I don’t know about others but for me as an artist it takes at least a year for me to complete each of my projects and I don’t have time to do anything else. It’s my full time job. It’s tough of course because our revenue flows are only through the sale of artworks, but never once have I wanted to give up. I think what I do is not for my own sake but rather for the sake of the culture of my people and my nation,” she says.
She says her White exhibition’s intricate large-format pencil drawings are meant to explore gender roles and gender equality in past and present Cambodia.
“The present has its roots in the past. To understand ourselves we need to know our traditions. To grow and to develop we need to understand the complexity of our culture. Everything is in your hands. You are the one who creates the future. Discover the past, look at the present and develop for the future. Everything is positive and negative.
“One other thing that I speak about is that we now shout out for equality, but that could lack gender equality. If we think about the Khmer roots, we have always valued the women by wanting equal rights for both men and women. However, through the knowledge and wisdom we had it actually doesn’t matter as regards to our gender. You will still be able to create peace of mind and the people that surround you will be able to receive that from you,” she says.
Among the 12 drawings is one of a woman and a crocodile. She says this work for her is a prophecy about what happens between man and woman.
She says the woman and crocodile is like a picture of water and land and represent a man and woman that always need to be together. If there is fertile land with enough water, plants will grow rapidly and life takes hold. On the other hand, if complimentary things turn against each other then conflict will occur.
“Therefore, when we know our weaknesses and negative side we need to ask ourselves what we can do about it for ourselves and our society’s future. And all of this starts with our present self because when we look at the past, it will lead us to the present and we continue to look into the future,” she says.
She says that when an individual doesn’t discipline themselves and doesn’t understand their own natural identity it’s like they are looking down on themselves. The drawing of the woman’s foot about to step on the crocodile means she chose conflict and this decision could turn around and bite her at any time.
“Before I want people to recognize me, I need to know who I am. My identity, my potential, my artwork. By that time people will understand my work by themselves. I want to focus on the present and what culture I can create for myself so that it will spread to people who follow my artistic journey.
“I also want say that all jobs are equally vital and it shouldn’t be the profession that matters. What matters is how you see the value in it and make use of it to the fullest,” she says.
The White exhibition has now closed but you can see some of Keosocheat’s artwork and contact her through her Facebook page: @KeosocheatArt