In the early 2000s, the first generation of post-war visual artists emerged from Phnom Penh’s Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA).
Born during the Khmer Rouge era and the strife of the 1980s, the artists were eager to express their country’s new reality. So they experimented with contemporary styles while keeping ancestral motifs in mind. Some went on to develop solid reputations in the country and abroad.
Since their time as students at RUFA, the opportunities for them to meet, let alone exhibit together, have been rare, which makes an exhibition opening on Friday at the National Museum all the more significant.
An initiative of painter Chhim Sothy—currently director of the fine arts and handicrafts department at the Culture Ministry—the exhibition, “reBirth reVitalise reGeneration,” consists of paintings and sculptures by 15 artists, including a few of their students, who are also now established artists.
“There are so few locations where such an exhibition can be held,” Mr. Sothy said on Tuesday. It was only when Culture Minister Phoeurng Sackona suggested the museum’s gallery and the museum authorities approved the project that it became reality, he said.
Artist Nou Sary, who graduated from RUFA in 2000, was thrilled. “This is going to be my first group exhibition [in a gallery] since returning to Cambodia from France in 2013,” said Mr. Sary, who studied in France on scholarships.
The exhibiting artists asked Warren Daly and Scott Bywater, with whom they had worked on previous shows, to help curate the exhibition. The result is harmony in the show: The pieces are positioned to enhance and complement each other.
Em Riem produced a vast portrait of George Groslier, the French artist who built and managed the National Museum as well as RUFA—then a traditional-arts school—after World War I until his death in Cambodia in 1945. Mr. Riem depicted him in sepia tones as if the painting was an old photograph.
Other works include Leang Seckon’s vast mixed-media scene, which, among other elements reflecting Cambodia’s culture and history, features King Norodom Sihanouk with former French President Charles de Gaulle and former U.S. President John Kennedy’s wife Jackie, whom the king hosted in the late 1960s.
Where: National Museum, Street 13, Phnom Penh
When: Opening 7 p.m. Friday
Runs for one month