Friday, January 15, 2010

Homage to a friendship

Svay Ken, his wife Tith Yun and Ingrid Muan captured on canvas
Whilst at Meta House last night I had my first look at their latest display of paintings, which
is a re-hanging of an exhibition - A Good Friend is Hard to Find - that was first shown at the Reyum Gallery in January 2006. The exhibits are paintings by Khmer artist Svay Ken and were his tribute to a friendship he enjoyed with Ingrid Muan, the co-founder of the Reyum Institute who died a year before the initial exhibition. Svay Ken himself passed away in December 2008 aged 76. There are about 30 paintings in the main ground floor display and another dozen smaller portraits on the first floor. Svay Ken's contemporary, self-taught style is very distinctive and his work eagerly sought-after.
A portrait of Svay Ken's wife Tith Yun
Krom Ngoy, a musician and author, known as the Father of Khmer Poetry
Some of the 30 or so Svay Ken paintings on display
A view of one of Svay Ken's own exhibitionsAnother one of the artists' exhibitions recorded on canvas
Svay Ken (right) and Ingrid Muan are interviewed by journalist Seth Mydans in 2001

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Passing the family baton

This painting, My Grandfather Teaching Me How, says it all, by Ouk Sochivy
It all started on Sunday when three generations of Em Theay's family performed together at the benefit screening at Bophana and carried on this evening with two more events that I attended. Again at Bophana, the first-ever solo exhibition of paintings called To Be Continued by Ouk Sochivy kicked-off tonight with a healthy crowd in support of the 25-year-old artist. Chivy is the granddaughter of the legendary self-taught painter Svay Ken who died at the end of last year, and who taught and encouraged Chivy to begin painting in the middle of last year. Adopting an almost identical style to her grandfather, she has more than 30 paintings in this exhibition ranging from still life to fashion trends to eight paintings documenting the end of Svay Ken's life. Whilst the painting style won't be everyone's cup of tea, she is certainly carrying the Svay Ken baton and continuing his unique artform and technique. I left the exhibition at 7pm to make my way to the riverfront and the Chinese House just in time to catch an hour of chapei legend Kong Nai and his son, Kong Boran, performing together as a family unit, for another big crowd. Despite his blindness, Kong Nai is teaching his son though it was noticeable that Kong Boran has a sweeter voice than his father and adopts a slightly different singing style too. It is always a pleasure to see Kong Nai perform as he gives his all and flashes his brilliant white teeth as his way of acknowledging his enjoyment in performing and bringing this improvised form of music to a wider audience.

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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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Saturday, January 3, 2009

Svay Ken has his say

A father's advice to his children by Svay Ken, painted in July 2008
Svay Ken's paintings of a series of Buddha's teachings have a raw, naive quality to them as the artist himself provided a commentary to each of the paintings to which he had added the basic precept in Khmer language, in a documentary produced by Erin Gleeson on behalf of the Bophana Center, where the half-hour film was shown on Saturday afternoon. Svay Ken knew that this work would be some of his last, they were completed just prior to his death in December, so he described in great detail the moral and behaviour behind each painting. It was a fitting tribute to a man who had discovered his artistic streak late in life but was very clear in the message he wanted to convey in his paintings.
"When you are rich and famous, do not look down on your poor relatives and friends"
"Continually improve your knowledge, do not be lazy or ignorant"
The artist Svay Ken provides a running commentary to this series of paintings on the teachings of Buddha

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Friday, January 2, 2009

What's on

Events coming up in Phnom Penh include veteran Vietnam War photographer Tim Page's exhibition of photographs, as well as documentary screenings, Q&A's and so on at the Meta House, beginning this coming Sunday (4th) from 6pm. Also at Meta House from Saturday 3rd will be a collection of drawings titled Raining at Preah Vihear by Battambang artist Srey Bandol, who already has his drawings in print by Reyum in the book Looking At Angkor and another book aimed at children, In The Land of The Elephants. The 6pm opening on Saturday will be followed by a film/photo presentation of fellow artist Vandy Rattana.
Over at the Bophana Center on Saturday 3rd, a 4pm screening of a documentary on the late Cambodian artist Svay Ken will take place, in Khmer but with English subtitles, followed by another film, Two Neighbors.
Wednesday 7th is a national holiday here in Cambodia (Victory over Genocide Day). It will actually be the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime and I'm sure this landmark occasion will be acknowledged by a plethora of documentaries on tv but the main celebration of the anniversary will be at the Olympic Stadium in the city, where it's expected over 60,000 people will attend a mass rally. There's some grumbling here that 20,000 students are being forced to attend and it's little more than a rally in support of the CPP, but I'm sure the kids will enjoy their day off school, I know I used to. I loved the comment from a CPP lawmaker who said pointedly to the opposition whiners; "Only those people with a mental problem oppose Jan 7."

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