Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodian double amputee artist fights stigma through art



Cambodian double amputee artist fights stigma through art

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Double amputee artist Morn Chear cleans his linocut block printed artwork displayed at the Open Studio in Siem Reap province. AFP

Cambodian double amputee artist fights stigma through art

Whispered insults, social isolation, and lost opportunities – Morn Chear is channelling the stigma he has endured since he lost both his hands a decade ago into artwork that highlights the hardships of Cambodia’s disabled.

At 20, he was electrocuted in a construction accident and both his hands developed gangrene, pushing doctors to amputate them below the elbow.

“I was depressed, I did not know what I could do to earn money to feed my family,” he says of the shock he felt when he woke up from surgery.

Ten years later, Chear has found his place at an arts collective based in Siem Reap, where he specialises in linocut block printing – a technique rarely used in Cambodia.

Open Studio Cambodia represent several contemporary artists, selling their pieces out of an airy studio in the heart of a city famed for the Angkor Wat temple complex.

Linocut block printing requires a deft handle to chisel a scene into a block of linoleum, and then applying ink on the print toter where he lost his arms.

“Most of my artwork are all about my real stories,” he says, gesturing at a piece that features himself sitting in a hammock as others walk towards a pagoda.

Chear remembers the incident of his friends snubbing him clear as day – “Don’t call him to come with us, he is handicapped, it’s embarrassing,” he recalls them whispering.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Chear holds his linocut block printed artwork. AFP

Overcoming stigma

The Kingdom has undergone significant changes in the past two decades, with cities like Siem Reap and its capital Phnom Penh developing at break-neck pace to satisfy a growing tourist and export-reliant economy.

But health and education remains a sticking point, and for people with disabilities, access is even more challenging.

A survey last year by the Cambodian Disabled People’s Organisation found that 60 per cent of the country’s disabled live below the poverty line.

Government officials say 310,000 people out of Cambodia’s 16 million-strong population have disabilities – though the number is likely higher as many fall between the gaps.

Discrimination is rife, with Cambodians seeing the disabled as street beggars or a burden to their families.

For Chear, the social isolation from once-friendly peers was the most cutting.

He was nicknamed ‘A-Kambot’ by villagers, a derogatory Khmer word for the handicapped, after his return home – which “pierced” him deeply, and made him question whether life was worth living.

Relief came in 2015 when he was recruited into a non-profit group’s training programme – teaching him contemporary dance, drawing, computer skills, and even English.

Working with Open Studio Cambodia in 2018 seemed a natural move, as it fuelled his drive to use art to persuade the public to see the disabled as capable people.

“Some people who looked down on me in the past have become friendly again,” says Chear, adding that his artwork has been displayed in the US and in France.

But now, with billions worldwide forced to remain home due to the coronavirus pandemic, he is reminded of the social isolation he endured right after he lost his arms.

“I hope we will overcome it,” he says from his home in Kampot province, returning after the workshop was temporarily closed.

“If I can’t make art, I don’t know what I can do.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • The effects of the USD interest rate hike on Cambodian economy

    Experts weigh in on the effect of a potential interest rate expansion by the US Federal Reserve on a highly dollarised Cambodia Anticipation of the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike in March is putting developing economies on edge, a recent blog post by

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer

  • Singapore backs Cambodia's efforts on Myanmar

    Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supports Cambodia in its efforts to seek a solution to the ongoing Myanmar crisis as the chair of ASEAN. Lee expressed his support during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen via videoconference on January 14, with the talks focused