Riem Mony Silong, an extraordinary artist, is challenging the art world by transforming waste materials into stunning works of art. With a vision for a greener future, Mony Silong’s latest creation—a mesmerising dress made from tens of thousands of shells—embodies his commitment to sustainability and community empowerment.

“Collecting tens of thousands of snail shells, I meticulously drill holes into the seams, creating an enchanting and unconventional ensemble,” said Mony Silong, known for his long beard and moustache, as he skilfully crafts his one-of-a-kind dress.

It took two months of free time to complete the eight-kilogramme dress.

Inspiration struck when he realised the abundance of snail shells in his area. Living near a river that floods during the rainy season, people often discard the shells after cooking and consuming the snails. Recognising the potential of these discarded shells, the artist began collecting them, paving the way for his innovative artwork.

The snail shell dress made its grand debut at an exhibition held at the Institut français du Cambodge. Mony Silong wore the unique creation during the event and presented the special set to the institute for public display.

However, the true beauty of Mony Silong’s snail shell dress lies beyond its aesthetics. The artist intends to sell this remarkable piece and utilise the proceeds to purchase solar lights for his community. By prioritising sustainability and empowering his local community, he exemplifies the transformative power of art.

Mony Silong’s snail shell dress is a testament to his artistic prowess and unwavering commitment to sustainable practices. He has discovered the tourism potential of Siem Reap’s Kampong Khleang within his community and recognises the opportunity to attract more visitors by enhancing the community’s infrastructure. One crucial aspect he focuses on is the installation of light poles in all ten villages, greatly improving safety, particularly for children, during night time.

Driven by his commitment to community development, the artist has devised an innovative approach to fund his ambitious project. He plans to create three paintings and sell them to generate additional funds for the purchase of solar lights. Currently, he is focused on constructing roads to enhance convenient travel and establishing a networked drinking water system, starting with four villages.

Mony Silong’s journey as an eco-friendly artist began in 2009 when he volunteered at an organisation where he learned how to up cycle old paper into paintings. Intrigued by the possibilities of recycling, he started experimenting with kitchen scraps like snail shells and vegetables, blending them with paper to create intriguing compositions. It was his encounter with the issue of plastic waste burning and its toxic consequences that truly ignited his passion for transforming waste into art.

He found inspiration in recycling plastic bottles and bags, seeking to give them a new lease of life as art objects.

Mony Silong’s intricate sea king and mermaid art pieces are composed of a diverse range of materials, including sugarcane, grass, leaves, plastic bags, water bottles, fish spines, and snails. He meticulously combines these elements with natural resin and glue.

However, the artist faces challenges in sourcing natural glue, as commercially available glue contains chemicals that can have harmful effects on the environment and health in the long run. He acknowledges that natural glue can have minor effects on the skin during the production process, causing temporary irritation. To minimise these issues, proper ventilation is ensured to reduce direct contact between the resin’s vapours and the skin.

His talent and dedication caught the attention of others, leading to a remarkable opportunity. He was approached to produce a chapei dong veng – a traditional Cambodian musical instrument – using a water bottle, in celebration of the two-year anniversary of the inscription of the chapei on the UNESCO intangible cultural heritage list in 2016. This project marked a significant milestone in his artistic career, as his plastic bottle creation earned him the prestigious ASEAN Youth Environmental Award under the Ministry of Environment’s project.

Today, Mony Silong’s recycled artwork can be found on display at various state ministries and numerous non-profit organisations. Aside from helping his community, he is also making a profit from his artistic talent. He crafts bees made from rattan and sprays them with colour.

He is also involved in recycling rubbish to create crafts and engaged in a community water supply project within his local commune. Before Covid-19, he had a workshop in Mondul 3 village and stalls in the Siem Reap’s Old Market. He plans to reopen in the near future, focusing on artwork through recycling for tourism.