A slightly bemused Cambodian man slices into a tree with a chainsaw and stares off into space, as if he can’t fully wrap his mind around what he’s doing or hasn’t a care in the world.
Behind him lies a field of stumps where trees once stood and bulldozers at work taking care of the rest.
The scene is from “Illegal Logging,” one of Em Sothya’s cartoons on display now through Sept 29 in the lobby of the Cambodia-Japan Cooperation Center at the Royal University of Phnom Penh.
“Abnormal climactic conditions triggered by illegal logging has led to water shortages, caused volcanic eruptions, and has adversely affected the lives of people,” reads the drawing’s caption.
Ten cartoonists from 10 Asian countries—including Japan, Indonesia, China, India, Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and the Philippines—have their work on display in the show, which is funded by the Japan Foundation and centers around the theme of Asian environmental issues.
Mikio Nakamura, CJCC chief adviser, said at the launch ceremony Monday morning that Japan has had its own bitter experiences with deforestation, one of the problems currently plaguing Cambodia.
“There is no border for the environmental problems,” he said, adding that though this is the 10th Asian Cartoon Exhibition since 1995, it is the first to be shown in Cambodia.
Em Sothya, 50, has been a cartoonist at the Khmer-language newspaper Rasmei Kampuchea Daily since 1995. He began casually drawing when he was 5 years old, and though he later attended the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, he considers himself mainly self-taught when it comes to cartoons.
“I studied myself. It is my talent,” he said.
Most of Em Sothya’s cartoons contain naturalistic images of destruction in the countryside—variations of poaching, pollution and climate change—made palatable through a pleasing array of muted, earthy colors.
One of his cartoons titled “Poaching of Animals” shows a menagerie of wildlife turning tail out of the forest thanks to a man with an oversized head in the foreground holding a deer carcass on a spit.
Another cartoonist, Li Qing from China, uses eerie greens and black to depict surreal scenes—like one in which the grim reaper steam-rolls tiny people with a giant AA battery.
The caption reads: “A waste AA battery can pollute an area of 5 square meters for 50 years. If everyone throws away such poisonous bombs carelessly, the King of Terrors will come soon.”
An image by Indian cartoonist Mohd Irfaan Khan, shows a bald man sitting up in bed and the words “…so tired of life he took a sip of ground water and finished himself” lingering in space above him.