Art Gallery to Exhibit Traditional Lakhaoun Khaol Masks

A set of 30 masks, from the traditional theater form called Lak­haoun Khaol, made by one of the last masters of the craft will be on display starting tonight at the Reyum Gallery, formerly known as Situations.

An Sok, 60, originally made the masks for a commission that fell through. The masks were sitting in his house half-finished until the California-based Kasumisou Foundation stepped in with mon­ey allowing him to finish them and the Reyum Gallery to exhibit them along with photos that document the creative process.

“We’re going to show them as these beautiful objects,” said Ing­rid Muan, the gallery’s co-director. “But we wanted to also use the opportunity to show mask-mak­ing techniques.”

Muan, who is also an instructor at the Faculty of Plastic Arts, hopes her students will see the masks and be inspired by the pro­cess. An Sok, the only mask-maker to survive the Pol Pot re­gime, has passed his knowledge on to his son, but no one else ap­pears to be practicing the craft.

“No one’s making masks right now,” said Muan. “All the artists train their sons—not their daugh­ters—to continue, and they’re the ones who know the most. Some of that is the mystique of the old artist who knows so much, they cultivate that.”

The masks are accompanied by photographs of them in their earlier forms—unpainted and un­adorned paper mache made from strips torn from French newspapers—and the objects that play a part in the pro­cess—clay heads and patterned molds that An Sok dug up from his teacher’s yard after the Pol Pot re­gime ended.

Not all secrets, however, will be revealed, said Ly Daravuth, the gallery’s other co-director.

“It’s just a general view of the process….You cannot really blame people who want to keep their knowledge. Once they give it, it’s gone. In a country such as Cambodia with no copyright law, the relationship to knowledge is quite different,” Ly Daravuth said.

There also will be photos comparing the flashy urban Lak­haoun Khaol occasionally performed at Chak­tomuk Theater with the rural ver­sion that has more to do with ask­ing the spirits for rain than en­te­r­tainment. “It’s only once a year, performed right af­ter Khmer New Year,” said Mu­an.

“The costumes aren’t com­­­plete…and the value of it is not in the art value of the performance. It’s in the meaning that it has for the whole village.”

The masks will be for sale from $200-$550. The gal­lery also sells postcards and pos­ters for $1-$5. “We are not a money-making op­er­ation,” said Muan. “The point is to do these exhibitions.”

Khmer Lacquer Making and Lakhaoun Khaol op­ens tonight from 5 pm to 10 pm and will be on display until the end of the year.

The Reyum Gallery is at 47 Street 178 with hours from 8 am-6 pm, seven days a week.

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