For 34-year-old disabled artist Ream Monysilong, the items that people discard are his bread and butter.
Monysilong, who lives in Siem Reap’s Mondul III village, converts junk into art, which he then sells. His unique methods, which he won’t disclose, produce colourful paintings whose sale generates him from $200 to 250 a month, enough to support his family.
Monysilong’s art career was born of necessity. In 2007, he was helping his mother sell sugarcane juice when his left hand slipped between the metal grinding rolls. He lost two fingers.
He had always loved to draw but had not had any formal training. Two years after the accident, Monysilong decided it was time to learn how to draw and paint properly.
“I started learning in 2009 with a Japanese teacher, but I felt that knowing how to draw was not enough – everyone can draw,” he says. “So I decided I would learn to make something different.”
Casting around for ideas, he noticed the fallen leaves that his wife would sweep up in front of their home and then burn.
“I asked myself: Why don’t I try to recycle things that people regard as useless into objects of value?” he says with a smile, gesturing to a clutch of artworks on display at his house near the road that leads to Angkor Wat.
One look at his artwork and it’s clear that Monysilong’s imagination knows no bounds.
“I use everything – all kinds of trash including grass, discarded vegetables, eggshells, flowers, all sorts of rotting wood, fish scales, dying papaya trees, fallen leaves,” he says. “And I turn these into many beautiful works: of Angkor Wat, of ancient temples, of Apsara dancers, of the face of Jayavarman VII – the best-known king of the Angkor period – and of the daily life of Cambodian women.”
Each piece takes at least a week to finish, and sells for between $25 and $500 depending on its size.
“This artwork requires a lot of motivation and patience,” he says. “And because I don’t earn much from it, many people have told me I should give up and find another job. But no matter what happens, I will never stop doing what I love.”
His skills have helped open doors: some pieces are on display at the five-star Sokha Angkor Resort, and just this week, he was visited by the deputy governor of Siem Reap province, Kim Chhaihieng, who complimented him on his skills, and promised assistance.
“I will help to spread the news about his artwork and I also promised to give him a stall at any provincial exhibitions in order to give him a chance to show off his awesome artwork to more people,” Chhaihieng told Post Weekend.
Monysilong, who also uses his skills to fashion items for the home, hopes his work can do more than support his family: he wants it to inspire people to care about the environment.
“Because it shows that we don’t need to cut down large trees to make chairs and tables, for example,” he says. “We can make those things using discarded materials.”
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