Art Show Examines Impact of Mekong River Environment

The sculpture, resembling finely polished wood, features a shoal of fish jumping from brown into blue waters as if they were seeking a better environment, their in­tricately carved bodies intertwined to form a perfect arc.

The work, titled “Move out,” by Seous Nara, may have looked like it had been sculpted from a rare jungle hardwood, but it was actually glued woodchips—a re­cycling technique.

Mr. Nara was one of 17 students from the Visual Arts School in Battambang City who created works for the exhibition “Me­kong Impact,” which is being hosted at the Romeet Gallery on Phnom Penh’s Street 178 this weekend.

Their assignment was to illustrate in art what the Mekong River means for people living along its course and the threats it faces.

The art project is supported by the U.S. Embassy, and began last year by introducing the 17 students to Shana Udvardy of Amer­ican Rivers, a U.S. environmental organization, to learn about conservation, said U.S. Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh.

“Through this exhibit, we hope…that many people have a chance to view the artworks to learn something about the environment in which they live,” Mr. McIntosh said.

“We hope to start a conversation about Cambodia’s Mekong environment and the people who live in it every day.”

Currently in their third and fourth years at the Visual Arts School, which is run by the Cam­bodian organization Phare Pon­leu Selpak, most of the students turned to painting rather than sculpture for the Mekong Impact project, using all manners of styles to express their thoughts in mixed media, oil or acrylic paint, said Tor Vutha, the school’s visual art course director.

Mil Chankrim painted the gray-black silhouette of a person with, behind him on the left, the red Earth strewn with brown tree stumps and fish skeletons dominated by an orange sun and red sky, while on the right, the serene image of the Buddha appears in calm waters under blue sky. The message is clear: Forest and river devastation marks the end of life’s peaceful course.

Roean Saroeut used mixed media to express two extremes. The bottom half of his work shows drought: cracked, burned-orange ground on which lies a fish skeleton.

The top part depicts flooding through a blue-and-gray photo collage of people trying to salvage their belongings in flooded towns and villages.

Naming another of his works, “Business,” Mr. Nara chose to illustrate the trade function of the Mekong River in a highly stylized fashion, drawing the river against a patchwork of bright, multicolored squares and filling it with flags of the countries along the river’s course.

The exhibition, which was first held in Battambang City, will travel to Stung Treng province on Monday and Kompong Cham province on Friday, Mr. Vutha said.

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