Exhibition explores nature of family ties in Cambodia

Exhibition explores nature of family ties in Cambodia


New showcase by Cambodian artist Ouer Sokuntevy depicts scenes from her childhood and documents growing up in a traditional Khmer family

One of the paintings showcased at Java Cafe gallery as part of the “Family Ties”exhibition. Photo Supplied

Anew exhibition by 26-year-old-Cambodian artist Ouer Sokuntevy, "Family Ties", is to open Friday at Phnom Penh's Java Cafe and Gallery.

One of only a few female artists in Cambodia and a graduate of the influential Phare Ponleu Selpak art school in Battambang, Ouer Sokuntevy's most recent work reveals the artist's desire and longing for family and her struggle with the issues facing young Cambodian women today.    

Most of Ouer Sokuntevy's paintings depict scenes from her childhood in a traditional Khmer family.  

"Every family is sometimes happy and unhappy together," said Ouer Sokuntevy. "So in my family, sometimes the kids have been unhappy and sad."   

One of Ouer Sokuntevy's paintings depicts a child lightly embracing her mother's nipple with her fingers, and the young artist explains that the painting combines realism and abstraction, with the mother and child painted different colors to highlight the difference in their experience.

The painting was inspired by the artist's childhood memories of her grandmother.

"I slept next to her, and I loved to touch her nipples.  It would make me sleep well, and it would make me warm," she said.

Although Ouer Sokuntevy has yet to start a family of her own, she can easily see herself in the role of a mother, and many of the artist's paintings are based on her dreams and fantasies about her future family.

"In my dreams, I want there to be a connection between my children and me," she said.

When Ouer Sokuntevy began her education at Battambang's Phare Ponleu Selpak art school, she never envisioned that she would become a professional artist.

"[Before then] I did some art and paintings at home, but it was only just for fun," she said, adding that life was not easy for her at that time, as her parents did not support her decision to become an artist.

New life in Phnom Penh

Ouer Sokuntevy's life changed in December 2007, when Java Cafe and Gallery owner Dana Langlois discovered the young artist's work during a trip to Battambang.

"We knew there were quite a few students and artists based in Battambang, so we took a trip out there to meet people and see their work," said Langlois.

After meeting Ouer Sokuntevy, Langlois invited the artist to exhibit her work in Phnom Penh.

In February 2008, Ouer Sokuntevy moved to the capital and made art into a full-time profession.

Although she has achieved a degree of success and exhibited her work on numerous occasions, Ouer Sokuntevy says that her career still has a long way to go.

"For me right now, I'm not a real artist 100 percent," she said. "I'm also a student. I'm still studying. I'm still learning."  

As a young artist, Ouer Sokuntevy believes that she needs the lifetime ahead of her to perfect her work.

"Some artists spend their whole life painting ... and they still know nothing. I also know nothing. For me, I think I'm learning."

Both Ouer Sokuntevy and Langlois are optimistic about the future of Cambodian art.

"[Khmer artists] are currently discovering who they are, what they are and what their place in the world is," said Langlois.

"Family Ties" opens at Java Cafe and Gallery at 6pm on Friday.


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