Svay Pisith in front of the Svay Ken puppet at the Giant Puppet Project parade.
DURING Saturday night's Giant Puppet Project parade, one puppet in particular held a special significance to brothers Svay Pisith and Svay Kabo. Among the colourful renditions of animals, planets and dragon boats that ambled through Siem Reap streets and down the riverside was a large-scale replica of their father, recently deceased artist Svay Ken.
Parade organiser Bina Hanley said that while the choice to make the puppet was difficult, the sons of the artist were overwhelmed by the tribute.
Svay Ken only began painting in 1993, at the age of 60. But despite his late entry into the art scene, he quickly became one of Cambodia's most prolific painters. His folk-style renditions of everyday life in Cambodia captivated the art community, and after his death last December, the Java Cafe and Gallery held an exhibition of his works in his honour.
Hanley and Stuart Cochlin, the Giant Puppet Project director, felt that by making Svay Ken part of their parade, they could show his work to a new generation of Cambodians.
"When we were writing the list of puppets we wanted to make, I thought of Svay Ken," Hanley told the Post.
"Because it's an art project and he's a Cambodian artist. I wanted to show the kids that it's not just Barangs who are creating art here, there are important artists from their own country."
But the project organisers were worried about the reaction of Svay Ken's family. "We wanted the blessing of his sons," Hanley said.
"Initially, Svay Pisith wasn't quite sure how respectful it would be. I mean, it's a giant puppet, how respectful can that be? But we won him over."
On the night of the festival, Hanley said that both sons were overwhelmed with emotion.
The Svay Ken puppet was constructed by children from the NGO This Life Cambodia and was placed on the back of a truck where it sat in front of an equally huge canvas.
"Our giant Svay Ken puppet painted the parade," said puppet-master Jig Cochrane.
The Giant Puppet Project began in 2007, and this year's was the biggest the parade has been. About 550 children were involved.
While the tissue-papered creations have a short life span, the lesser Adjutant and the Hanuman puppets are en route to Battambang, where they will perform a last encore in a smaller procession.