A contemporary artist for more than a decade, the renowned Chhan Dina has just opened her latest exhibition called Flying Higher together with some of her students at the Plantation Urban Resort & Spa in Phnom Penh.
Unlike her previous work – which is best characterised as contemporary art full of bold colours and abstract shapes – Flying Higher consists of 12 paintings exuding a Zen ambiance into the gallery.
Two pieces of Dina’s artwork have already been shown and highly praised at the Kunming Art Biennale in China, and now she has challenged herself to incorporate traditional Chinese materials and techniques into her latest work.
In her most recent pieces, the 35-year-old artist has used Chinese ink to make monochrome images of birds – flying, twitching, hiding and fluttering – in different shades of a single colour.
“It’s the first time I’ve used this Chinese ink technique in my paintings. Birds were my subject as I want to raise awareness about their conservation in our country,” Dina told The Post, prior to the exhibition’s opening day on Saturday.
Alongside Dina’s 12 paintings are some 20 colourful works by her students, whom she teaches at orphanages as well as the International School of Phnom Penh.
“Use your own imagination! Be confident! You don’t have to become an artist, but you learn much about yourself and the world by trying,” Dina says she has always reminded her students, adding that it has been a long-held ambition of hers to showcase her work alongside her students.
Known for her abstract, colourful paintings and sculptures, Dina’s work often tackles the themes of gender, women’s empowerment, landmines, health and wildlife conservation.
Born in 1984 in Phnom Penh, Dina grew up with three brothers and two sisters. Seeing the heavy burden that many women have carried since a young age, through her work Dina has aspired to honour all hard working Cambodian women.
Among her most striking pieces are those relating to Cambodia’s ongoing problem with landmines – an issue inspired by her struggles first-hand as a young girl, as her family was forced out of the capital to a refugee camp in Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town, along the border with Thailand.
Living in an area littered with unexploded ordinances, Chhan Dina recalled the dangers she endured as a child: “At that time, there was only a small clear path to school that wasn’t covered in landmines. I remembered how scary it was to walk to school seeing so many warning signs.”
Sometimes she heard explosions in the distance that had taken the lives or limbs of farmers, children and animals.
At nine years old she was saved from the dangers of the refugee camp as her family returned to Phnom Penh. This is where her life would change forever as she met her neighbour, an American artist.
“He saw me as a little girl playing with dirt and clay. He might have seen something in me as he taught me how to draw and sculpt,” she says.
From the age of 12 she spent a decade training in sculpture and painting, she was inspired by famous artists like Henri Matisse, Mark Rothko, Vincent Van Gogh, and Maurits Cornelis Escher.
Her paintings and sculptures have been exhibited in Cambodia, Colombia, France, Singapore and the US.
Through her Flying Higher exhibition, Dina is hoping to provide momentum to Cambodia’s emerging art scene and encourage her young students to pursue their dreams as artists.
“My main purpose is to show the public how young Cambodian artists like my students are bursting with excitement when their work is strongly supported and gather more interest from the public than ever before.
“All of my 12 paintings are the same size and each comes with the $1,300 price tag. For the 20 paintings by my students, the price varies on each.
“Cambodian people have started to value art work and they are willing to spend a high amount of money on art to decorate their homes and keep in their collection,” she says.
Despite her work’s high market value, Dina says that for her – and most artists – a career in art is not about the money.
“For a contemporary artist like me, I love expressing myself though colour and shapes. I still put a high value on creativity before money,” she says.
Flying Higher opened on Saturday at The Plantation Urban Resort & Spa on Street 184 and it will run until April 15.