Artist Riem Mony Silong dropped out of school in grade-four aged nine. Born into an impoverished family in Siem Reap, they could not afford to send him to public school, let alone provide him with art lessons.
But today, this talented 38-year-old artist uses his self-taught skills to produce pieces made from 100 per cent recycled material. Having struggled for over a decade to perfect his skills turning fish scales, plastic and other rubbish into works of art, today Silong finally earns a good living from what he loves doing.
“I finished grade four in elementary school but I started school until I was 14 years old. My family was very poor and they often moved from one place to another,” he says proudly, having achieved so much in the face of adversity.
Lacking a proper education, Silong initially had to earn a very low wage collecting garbage. It was this hard life experience that taught him about how harmful human waste polluting the environment is and ultimately proved the inspiration for his artwork.
“I started to turn rubbish into art work in 2009. At first nobody was interested in what I was doing, but the past few years this has turned around and people have begun valuing my work. My recycling arts and crafts are now becoming recognised and appreciated,” he said.
Mony Silong, who lives with his wife and daughter in Siem Reap, transforms the discarded into the desirable. He’s assembled fish scales into pictures, turned plastic bags into animal sculptures and transformed old car tires into coffee tables.
Though this man from very humble beginnings is overjoyed that his artistic passion is able to provide money to sustain his family, he hopes that one day his pieces will be displayed in a gallery and admired by the public.
His art work is priced from as little as $10, with creations made from recycled car tires priced between $100 and $400. Mony Silong does however produce higher ticket luxury items too.
“In the past, my creations could not support my family. But last year I started to earn money, with pieces selling for up to $3,000. The more expensive creations are usually time consuming and take between one and two months to complete,” he says.
His proudest piece of work is a giant traditional Cambodian long-neck guitar named Chapei Dong Veng made from 6,000 plastic water bottles and 16,000 plastic straws.
The guitar was displayed in Siem Reap’s Wat Bo temple from November 30 to December 2 to commemorate last year’s Chapei Dong Veng Festival – a Cambodian musical tradition inscribed in 2016 on Unesco’s List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding.
Mony Silong does not mind when people refer to him as ‘rubbish man’ or the ‘rubbish artist’, saying he owes his living to rubbish and understands its value. His next major ambition, Mony Silong says, is to “own his own gallery to display his artwork”.
You can find Mony Silong’s pieces at Backstreet Bar on the 4th floor of Sorya Center Point in Siem Reap. The artist can also be contacted online via the Facebook pages Silong Original and Selong Vath, while his contact number is 077492198.