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

  • Hong Kong firm done buying Coke Cambodia

    Swire Coca-Cola Ltd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Hong Kong-listed Swire Pacific Ltd, on November 25 announced that it had completed the acquisition of The Coca-Cola Co’s bottling business in Cambodia, as part of its ambitions to expand into the Southeast Asian market. Swire Coca-Cola affirmed

  • Cambodia's Bokator now officially in World Heritage List

    UNESCO has officially inscribed Cambodia’s “Kun Lbokator”, commonly known as Bokator, on the World Heritage List, according to Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona in her brief report to Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of November 29. Her report, which was

  • NagaWorld union leader arrested at airport after Australia trip

    Chhim Sithar, head of the Labour Rights Supported Union of Khmer Employees at NagaWorld integrated casino resort, was arrested on November 26 at Phnom Penh International Airport and placed in pre-trial detention after returning from a 12-day trip to Australia. Phnom Penh Municipal Court Investigating Judge

  • Takeo hand-woven silk items provide local high-quality alternative to imports

    After graduating from university and beginning her career as a civil servant at the the Ministry of Economy and Finance, Khieu Sina found time to establish a business that aligns with her true passion – quality hand-woven Khmer goods. Her product line, known as Banteay Srei,

  • Two senior GDP officials defect to CPP

    Two senior officials of the Grassroots Democratic Party (GDP) have asked to join the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), after apparently failing to forge a political alliance in the run-up to the 2023 general election. Yang Saing Koma, chairman of the GDP board, and Lek Sothear,

  • 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival draws to close

    Cambodia's 11th Chaktomuk Short Film Festival wrapped up successfully on November 28 after a four-day run, with the film “Voice of the Night” awarded top prize for 2022. Sum Sithen, the organiser of the short film festival, told The Post that the number of attendees to the