Cambodian Artist Expresses Social Ills Through Paintings

A couple of years ago, Hour Seyha came up with the idea of painting an “imaginary village” that would illustrate all that blights present-day Cambodia.

“But I could not do it,” he said last Friday. “This required more information on the country’s history, ancient monuments’ sculptures, and especially life in villages.”

'The Market' by Hour Seyha (Alain Troulet)
‘The Market’ by Hour Seyha (Alain Troulet)

So the 26-year-old artist embarked on this research, touring the country’s museums and seeing city and village life for himself. What he found led to a series of acrylic paintings entitled “Welcome to my Village,” opening on Tuesday at Meta House.

While Mr. Seyha was prepared to witness the well-known effects of corruption, which he says plagues every realm of society from the court system to health care services, he had not anticipated the ravages caused by alcohol consumption.

“Heavy drinking is critically affecting people’s lives in cities, towns and the countryside,” he said. “People simply waste their families’ money on alcohol, causing serious family crises. Also, drunken husbands get out of control and beat their wives or children. Heavy drinking turns a man into a cruel, out-off-control guy.”

These social ills destroy Cambodia from the inside, as illustrated in Mr. Seyha’s painting “The Royal Worms.” Done in pastel red against a blue-and-black marbled background, the work depicts a person with the head of an Angkorian-era statue—its human ribcage and bowels are exposed with scores of worms falling off its innards.

Through his on-the-ground research, Mr. Seyha also found the immutable Cambodia.

In his painting “The Market,” a crowd meanders among thatch-roofed stalls and produce displayed on the ground, the market framed by two-story city buildings. Done in muted pastel tones, the painting also features some people with heads of statues that could have been sculpted 1,000 years ago. Other paintings in the series feature Cambodia’s legendary animal and ghost characters.

Mr. Seyha ended the series on a note of hope: In his painting “Emerging Conscience,” the marbled face of a person with huge blue-green eyes looks straight ahead, with a background of small flowers painted in pale yellow, mauve and blue.

Part of the artist group Romcheik 5 in Battambang City, Mr. Seyha studied at the art school of the organization Phare Ponleu Selpak in that city. His work has been exhibited in France and Canada as well as in Cambodia.

The exhibition at Meta House opens at 6:00 p.m. and ends July 4.

[email protected], [email protected]

Related Stories

Latest News