Artists Celebrate Independence in all Styles in Art Competition in Cambodia

Cambodian artist Nout Daro poses for the press on Jan. 26 after being awarded first prize in the Independence Competition 23 in Phnom Penh. Photo: mv

PHNOM PENH — Artist Nout Daro on Jan. 26 was awarded the Jury Prize in the Independence Competition 23 in Phnom Penh. His painting entitled “My Life my Rule,” which features a character half human half mythical holding a lotus flower, was selected by the jury among the 41 artworks of well-established as well as lesser-known artists who were finalists in the contest.

“I did not expect to win,” he said, following a ceremony at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel during which Pen Mony Makara, secretary of state of the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, presented the awards to the contest winners. Daro, who is a graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, is currently a school teacher.

As many as 120 people—painters, sculptors and photographers—had submitted works for the contest that took place in November 2023, and was organized by Jean Morel of the Association ReCréation-Cambodia, Pierre Rol of the boutique gallery Lézard Bleu in Phnom Penh, and the Sofitel hotel.

Although the event was held to mark the 70th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence, it was up to the participants to view this as they wished, Morel explained. The name of the competition, which was Ekarieach Prokuot Procheng 23 in Khmer and Independence Competition 23 in English, could be taken as meaning to express the notion of independence in general or the anniversary in particular, he said.

Artwork entitled “My Life my Rule” by artist Nouy Daro that was awarded first prize in the Independence Competition 23 in Phnom Penh. Photo: Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

Some artists focused on the event, Morel said, featuring the Monument of Independence or King Norodom Sihanouk who obtained from France to end the country’s protectorate treaty in 1953. “Others put the theme in something less instantly readable, and there were Cambodian and expat artists in both categories,” he said.

A total of 160 people registered for the contest and 120 completed artworks they submitted to the selection committee through photos. “Works submitted reflected various levels of talent,” said Chan Vitharin, vice dean of the Faculty of Fine Arts at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, who was a member of the jury. “While all works selected were as a whole quite good,” he said, “we could identify the professional artists and the people who were amateurs.”

Painting by Thun Dina entitled “Imagine Floating Space.” Photo: Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

To make a final decision, the committee members felt they needed to see the actual works. So, they asked to have 45 artworks brought over. The art gallery at the Sofitel hotel is meant to display around 20 artworks, Morel said. However, the committee members were only able to eliminate four works.

Therefore, the hotel staff made room for the works in the lobby and the corridor leading to the art gallery. The sculpture of a blue bird taking flight from a rock done by Cyril Berthet ended up on a section of the hotel registration desk. The large-size painting of Thun Dina entitled “Imagine Floating Space,” showing a Cambodian woman in a traditional skirt over a bed of flowers with Planet Earth and a pale mauve sky in the background, was hung on the wall close to the lounge. The multi-meter high sculpture of Independence Monument by Olivier Adrien Mence made of hundreds of light silver pieces was put in the middle of the lobby. And Nout Daro’s painting—now the award-winning work of the contest—was hung on the wall between the hotel’s two main exit doors. 

The contest included two other awards. The Young Talent Prize went to Ork Socheata whose work entitled “Once You’re on Your Own” is a black-and-white drawing done with a black marker and pencil of a person with wings who reaches out toward flowers in a décor of leaves and flowers with a lion’s head in one corner.  And Melissa Quach won the Public Prize for her work entitled “I interweaved my past and my future, forging a path towards independent dawn.” This shows a young man and a boy in white t-shirts next to a river and set against a night blue sky, the man holding an oval bottle containing a miniature scenery of palm trees and mountains.

Photo montage by Yin Phearun featuring Independence Monument in Phnom Penh. Photo: Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

In addition to the works of the three winners, the 38 other works selected feature a whole range of styles and approaches to the theme.

For example, photographer Yin Phearun did a black-and-white photo composition of Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument park with highrises shown in the background, people walking in the park among birds and greenery in the forefront, and the image of King Sihanouk floating above the monument. Phearun entitled his work “70th Cambodia Independence Day.”

Artists De Chhora, Heng Rethy and Thon Chan also illustrated the country getting its independence in 1963, and showed the late King Norodom Sihanouk, or the monument itself while others celebrated being independent in a variety of techniques in figurative or abstract ways.

Loeum Oudom’s work “The Rope Dancer” sets a link with the country’s past. In his work: A Khmer dancer of centuries ago is shown performing on a rope, making the well-known Khmer classical-dance hand gestures, and wearing a traditional headgear and a short wrap around his lower body. The silhouette of what could be the top of a stone wall can be seen behind the dancer, the work being done in oil pastel on canvas.

Van Vart also set a link with the past, featuring a mythical character in his work entitled “Light of Ekariech” in which he used crystal, glitter and paint to create a traditional being wearing Independence Monument as a crown and holding the shape of the country’s map.

The exhibition at the Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra hotel runs through Feb. 11, 2024.

Painting entitled “The Rope Dancer” by Loeum Oudom. Photo: Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethra

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