Connecting the threads of kingdoms past

The artist Chan Dany with one of his sampot pieces.
The artist Chan Dany with one of his sampot pieces. Eliah Lillis

Connecting the threads of kingdoms past

For years now, artist Chan Dany has devoted himself to an unusual subject: sampot, the traditional Cambodian textile worn since at least the Angkorian era.

Depicted on the bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat, and still worn today during weddings, funerals and other ceremonies, for Dany, sampot is a thread connecting the ancient and the modern. His work is a celebration of this continuity. On display at the Lotus Pond Art Gallery, this is the fourth installment of his Sampot series, the idea for which was planted years ago when the artist would observe his mother wearing traditional clothes.

“I bought different forms and colours of stickers, and sometimes I bought materials from other countries to add decorative ornaments, like kbach and fabric wrapping with the desired silk patterns,” he says, referring to the ornate decorative style seen in Angkorian carvings.

Using watercolors, plastic and sewed patterns on cloth, Dany’s work is a pastiche of styles all incorporating the traditional designs of sampot.

In the 13 pieces on display, Dany uses three different styles. The first employs colouring stickers, the second is painted on fabric, and the last incorporates a mix of sewed patterns and gems on plastic.

Dany’s mission is to inform and promote understanding – especially among women – of sampot and to promote their use at events such as Khmer New Year and Pchum Ben.

“Not many people wear sampot right now, and I saw a lot of garments which had been thrown away,” he said. “So I collect those to sew and paint them to make artwork.

”It was an arduous task. The project has occupied the Prey Veng-born artist for the past two years.

“I don’t have new artwork until this year, because I took a lot of time to make this series,” he said.

A miniature version of his Sampot Civilise show debuted last month in Paris alongside two other artists. During the exhibition, the works will be on sale and range from $1,200 to $4,500.

“I want to preserve the Khmer identity of sampot for the next generation, while Asian countries are identifying the symbols within their traditions,” he said.

“The attention to social changes and cultural projections of personal identity can be sensed in Sampot Civilisé.” While the sampot is a personal and cultural statement, for Dany it is also about style and aesthetics. “I do hope that people, especially women, will come to support this exhibition– because the women wear sampot the best,” he said.

Sampot Civilise will be on display for three months from January to March at the Lotus Pond Art Gallery, The Plantation Urban Resort & Spa. Contact the artist at 069 999 484. Free entrance

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