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An Sok, 60, originally made the masks for a commission that fell through.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.