Artist Uses Recycled Paper to Create Stunning Nature-Life Artworks

This photo shows artwork by Sou Sophy. Photo provided
  • By Po Sakun
  • September 25, 2023 5:35 PM

PHNOM PENH – When she saw broken cardboard on the road and leaflets strewn across the street, Sou Sophy had the idea of using recycled paper to express her creativity.

After 5 years of working on the project, the native of Battambang province has created 25 stunning mosaics that depict the connection between living beings on earth, from humans to animals to plants.

She wants her art to serve as a metaphor for how vulnerable all form of life is, and the damages caused to nature by humans.

Her will to use recycled materials to create is partially connected to her artistic message, even though it came to her by accident.

One day, as she was walking on the street, she saw pieces of cardboard being crushed by the motorbikes and cars that were driving over it, turning the material into powder.

That moment inspired her to use these pieces of cardboard for her art, in a move to reduce waste on the street. A few meters away, she stumbled upon a pile of leaflets burning on the side of the road.

“Children handed out leaflets to passers-by, some put them in the basket of their motorbike, and others were in a rush, thus, no choice but to throw them on the street. The paper melts easily, but we should not clutter it up like this”, Sophy said.

Sou Sophy, who was a student and art teacher at Phare Ponleu Selpak from 2004 to 2017, saw artistic potential in this waste.

“One day, there was a teacher who taught us how to use straw to make paper for mosaic. Later, I also used cane pulp to make paper for painting,” she said.

To create her 25 pieces of art, Sophy used office paper, parchment paper or egg boxes. Before processing it, the paper is divided into different groups to melt and separate the different colors.

“I try to find recycled paper for processing. The plastic on parchment paper must be peeled off before it can be processed. After soaking it to soften, we have to wash it with water to get rid of the smell. Then soak it again. We put the paper in a container and beat it with a stick until it turns into powder,” she explained.

“I do not use any machine because I want to save electricity. Also, I think that what can be done by hand should be done by hand.”

As for the coloring phase, Sophy explained that some powders do not need to be mixed with colors but some types of paper need to be colorized to make the artwork more beautiful and attractive.

“Some of the powder, I like it when it is wet, but when it is dry, the color is usually lighter. So I have to add colors back into it. Not a strong color, just enough to make sure it is more contrasted than the original color.”

While she just completed her first project, Sou Sophy is already thinking about the next step and says she is willing to launch a workshop to teach people who are interested in how to turn garbage into artwork. 

“But I still have to set a specific time for teaching,” she said.

Cambodians are more and more aware of the consequences of disposing of their waste in nature. However, she emphasized that some rubbish should not be thrown away because it can be recycled into household items or used to create art.

Originally written in Khmer, this article was translated by Rin Ousa for Cambodianess.

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