Monday, February 22, 2010

Taking the stage

As part of a two week national performing arts festival that is taking place in Phnom Penh, though you wouldn't know it through the complete lack of coverage in the western media, the Khmer Arts Ensemble will be making a rare public performance of one of their key classical dances, Seasons of Migration, this Thursday (25 February) at Chaktomuk Theater. The start time is 2.30pm and its free to the public. In fact, there are three shows each day at Chaktomuk, with performers coming from around the country to showcase their traditional performance art. But as I said, you wouldn't know it. I went to the theater last week to find out more and no-one could give me a programme of events or tell me who and when they were performing. The Khmer Arts Ensemble are a professional touring dance and music troupe based in Takhmau and they develop and perform the original choreography of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro as well as rare works from the classical repertoire. Find out more here. On the same day, Thursday, a new exhibition of paintings, Depth of Hope, by one of my favourite Khmer artists, Chhim Sothy will open at the Reyum Gallery in the city.
Update: I've just got hold of a translated copy of the festival programme. It shows 3 performances each day being played out at Chaktomuk at 8am, 10am and 2.30pm. The performances are mainly from provincial performance groups performing Yike, Lakhon Bassac and Lakhon Niyey as well as the Seasons of Migration on Thursday, on Friday at 2.30pm the Cambodian Living Arts will present wedding music and on Saturday, Sovanna Phum will also perform.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Sothy branches out

Close-up detail from the painting, Pinaree and her Son, by Chhim Sothy
The artist, Chhim Sothy, giving an interview for local tv in front of his painting, Footprint History
Chhim Sothy, he of the friendly disposition, beaming smile and artistic talent aplenty, opened his latest solo exhibition tonight at the Chinese House to a large gathering. Titled New Musings and containing 19 acrylic paintings, all of which contained both an abstract and traditional mixture on each canvas. It's good to see him branching out though he finds it hard to shake off his traditional background, judging by these latest works, but that's fine as I love his traditional Buddhist artwork. I keep promising myself to get down to his gallery to see the full range of his work at first-hand. The paintings at Chinese House range in price from $400 to $1,100 and all but four of them were painted this year. The show was curated by Brad and Rattana Gordon, who also run the Teo+Namfah Gallery in Bangkok. It's on for another two weeks. In case you didn't know, the Chinese House is on Sisowath Quay opposite the container port and is a mix of Chinese and French colonial style, built in 1905. The art gallery is on the ground floor with a bar upstairs.
Another abstract with traditional characters, titled Hanuman & Ponaakay
This acrylic painting is titled 8 Directions, by Chhim Sothy

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Art explosion

Chhim Sothy at his last solo exhibition
In half an hour I'm off to visit a new exhibition of paintings at the Reyum Gallery by contemporary Khmer artists, Khun Sovanrith and Venn Savat. 23 paintings in all, a mix of sceneries, still life and abstracts. I'll report back later. One of my favourite Khmer artists, Chhim Sothy has a new exhibition of his work coming up, opening on the 16th at Chinese House on Sisowath Quay and ongoing until the end of the month. Titled 'New Musings,' Sothy will include his beautifully detailed Cambodian figures against traditional motifs and backgrounds. I'll definitely be at Thursday's opening party. Read about his last exhibition here.


Friday, April 10, 2009

Great news from Reap

A Svay Ken still-life, Basket, from 2007
News just in from Siem Reap, my pal Eric de Vries and his wife Lida are the proud parents of a tiny female tot by the name of C'moon, who arrived this afternoon after a long labour. My heartiest congratulations to all and good to hear mum and baby are doing just fine. The new arrival and the opening of his new 4Faces gallery-cafe on the 24th of this month will keep the new dad busy for sure, especially as everything will stop for Khmer New Year next week. Eric has announced his list of monthly exhibitions until the end of the year, kicking off with the legendary Tim Page, a Sean Flynn solo, posthumously of course, in November and another friend of mine, Jerry Redfern in December. If you are in Siem Reap, please pop in and visit Eric's new venture, close to the old market.
Tonight was the second showing of Out of the Poison Tree at Meta House, which attracted a small but interested audience. The film generated quite a few questions, especially about the KR Tribunal but also a suggestion that the documentary should be made more widely available to Cambodians to watch. I couldn't agree more. Whilst I was at Meta I noticed a couple of paintings on the walls, on the same floor as the Tim Page exhibition, that I hadn't noticed before. Shame on me. They included offerings from the late Svay Ken and from traditional master painter Chhim Sothy.
A departure from the norm for Chhim Sothy, called Anarchic Construction from 2007

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Thursday, April 2, 2009

Art explosion

Ian Whittaker's Wat Phnom - oil on canvas, selling for $360
Trying to keep up with the number of art exhibitions taking place in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap is almost impossible these days. There seems to be a new exhibition opening on a daily basis and whilst some of it isn't anything I would write home about, it's all down to personal taste and preference, and the more the merrier as far as I am concerned. I would never wish to put a lid of the current explosion of art we are experiencing, especially art from local Cambodian painters, sculptors and photographers, which I feel is so important that they get their work shown and seen by a larger public. One of the most visible of Cambodian painters is Chhim Sothy, who recently had a solo exhibition in town which I visited and reported on here. He's got another set of paintings on show, this time alongside Australian artist Ian Whittaker at Meta House, under the banner of Life of the Streets which will run until 22 April. Over at Java Cafe today, David Harding opens a new exhibition of his paintings called Minerallos which will run until 2 May, whilst the Bophana Center welcomes 20 works from 16 Cambodian artists in its' Still Water exhibition that will open on Friday. And don't forget that Eric de Vries' new 4Faces Gallery-Cafe will be opening in Siem Reap on 24 April.
Chhim Sothy's Old Buildings in Phnom Penh - oil on canvas, sale price $1500
Another Ian Whittaker take on life - Salon, oil on canvas, selling at $380

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Sunday, February 22, 2009

Silent no more

The on-stage cast of Breaking the Silence; LtoR: Sakona, Tonh, Sovanna, Sotheary, Sokly, Sina, Vutha
Yesterday was a busy day, the type I enjoy the most. I was at the office in the morning then after watching some football on the tv, I went to see Chhim Sothy's exhibition of paintings at the Culture office on Street 63. Sothy was there to say hello, bubbling with enthusiasm and eager to show off his excellent artwork. I love his traditional style and will visit his studio soon to see more of his art, and maybe get a bargain or two. I then walked to the Bophana Center on St 200 for the 4pm first showing of the documentary Bitter Khmer Rouge by Bruno Carette and Siem Meta. The place was packed to the rafters with francophones as the film, which included interviews with Khieu Samphan and Nuon Chea, was only in French and Khmer. My schoolboy French - actually I only studied it for a year and then got bored - didn't help, so I didn't really understand a word and instead, look forward to seeing the English language version someday soon. However, the footage was interesting and primarily what I came to see anyway, as the filmmakers gave rank and file ex-Khmer Rouge, and their leaders, an opportunity to give their version of events.
The on and off-stage members of Breaking the Silence
I raced away from the Bophana Center and headed for my next appointment, and the 6.30pm start of the brand new play Breaking the Silence, staged at the exhibition hall opposite the National Assembly. This is a theatre piece with word, song, music and dance and is intended to get Cambodians talking about their Khmer Rouge experiences, which is why after two performances in Phnom Penh, the plan is to take it out to the provinces, which is a fantastic idea. Cambodians love live performance though they will see a new style, created by Dutch director Annemarie Prins, which they may find both disturbing and thought-provoking. In seven short scenes the four actresses, a dancer, a singer and a musician bring alive stories and situations from the Khmer Rouge period as a way of opening up a platform for discussion. I hope this will be encouraged when they take the play to the provinces, as this will be an opportunity for many to see their own experiences played out on stage in poignant scenes, like the girl who stopped talking as a teenager after she was brutally raped by Khmer Rouge soldiers, and thirty years on the stigma remains with her and fellow villagers still look the other way out of shame and revulsion. Prins and her team have produced a play that many will find heavy because of its contents but which is based on fact, aided by DC-Cam, and put into a performance situation alongwith song and monkey dance to ensure there's something for everyone. I think it works brilliantly.
Director Annemarie Prins (center) and DC-Cam chief Youk Chhang (white shirt) on stage at the final curtain of Breaking the Silence

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Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tradition in good hands

Hanuman, the monkey god in fine detail
A favourite Cambodian artist of mine is Chhim Sothy. His traditional style paintings, usually acrylic on canvas, bring figures like Hanuman, Rama, Lakshmana and Ravana alive with his flowing brush strokes and intricate artwork that regularly feature scenes from the Ramayana epic and Buddhist themes. A prolific artist, though each painting can take two to three weeks to complete, Sothy, now 40 years old, was trained in the traditional artforms including sculpture, graduating from the Fine Arts school in 1996. His works have been exhibited just about everywhere in Cambodia as well as overseas exhibitions in far-flung places like the USA, France, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines and China. A display of nearly forty of his best works are currently being exhibited at the Dept of Culture & Fine Arts on Street 63 and the exhibition finishes at the end of this month. His Ramayana characters are displayed in full alongwith some of his less traditional abstract pieces. All of the artwork is for sale from $200 upwards. I recommend you get along and see it for yourself, and if you time it right, you can meet Sothy in person. He has time for everyone so stop for a chat in English, French or Khmer, or visit his studio on Street 109.
The artist at his own exhibition, Chhim Sothy
Traditional scenes abound at Chhim Sothy's exhibition on St 63
Two Ramayana figures in mortal combat
Another traditional Ramayana scene from Chhim Sothy's exhibition


Friday, February 20, 2009

Don't miss these

A quick reminder of some events taking place today and the next few days. At Meta House (St 264 near Wat Botum) tonight (Friday), there's the dual screening of New Year Baby, the 80-minute search for family secrets by Socheata Poeuv, followed by Seasons of Migration, showcasing the work of classical dance teacher Sophiline Cheam Shapiro. English language films start at 8pm. Tomorrow night, Saturday, same venue, are two films by the former King, Norodom Sihanouk, namely Shadow over Angkor (1968) and Rose of Bokor (1969), but don't expect great filmmaking, instead, enjoy them for the period pieces they are. Start 7pm.
Tomorrow night is also the first performance of the theatre art work Breaking The Silence, by Dutch director Annemarie Prins and Amrita Performing Arts. It promises to be something very special, dealing with memories and experiences from the Khmer Rouge period, and after the two weekend performances, will be taken on the road to the provinces. It starts at 6.30pm, at the exhibition hall opposite the new National Assembly building and tickets are free. If you can squeeze it in, there's a film about how the Khmer Rouge saw themselves at Bophana Center at 4pm tomorrow as well. Its called Bitter Khmer Rouge (Khmers Rouges Amers), by Bruno Carette and Sien Meta, but the downside is that this version is in French.
An exhibition worth a visit is a display of traditional paintings by artist Chhim Sothy at the Dept of Fine Arts on Street 63, which will run until the end of the month. Next week at Meta House, veteran war photographer Tim Page will be around to open his new permanent exhibition of some of his photographs at 6pm on Tuesday 24th, the same night as the documentary Vietnam American Holocaust by Clay Claiborne, which looks like a very interesting 90-minutes worth of viewing. Link: Bitter Khmer Rouge.

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