In Exhibit, Old Cambodian Masks Made Anew

While it has long been part of Cambodia’s tradition for classical male dancers to wear masks when they perform scenes from the epic tale Reamke, one rarely has the opportunity to see those intricately carved and painted masks in an exhibition, let alone contemporary versions of the masks.

And that is what makes the exhibition by artist Sam Chan­mony­roth at Phnom Penh’s The 240 Gallery all the more unusual.

Conceived as artworks rather than costume for classical dance, her masks are mainly built around traditional mask shapes. But many of the decorative features, and es­pecially the colors used, mark them as 21st-century versions of this art form.

In one mask, for instance, pet­als from an ochre flower lined with white cover the face of the yeak, or demon character, on a black background.

Her black-and-white masks are especially striking, demonstrating how easily Cambodia’s traditional designs can become truly contemporary.

One half of a mask is done in black on white, with the other half white on black, the muted tones making the piece timeless.

Another mask is decorated with wide black-and-white lines that form a series of geometric patterns, the overall effect being surprisingly harmonious.

Ms Chanmonyroth, who studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts, made the masks in papier mache and used a combination of watercolor, oil and acrylic to paint them, she said yesterday.

Married into the An family— which is famous for the traditional masks they have been making for generations—the 36-year-old artist has been creating masks for four years.

It is only this year that she decided to try her hand at contemporary masks, exhibiting a few at the designer show “Salon des createurs” last March in Phnom Penh.

The exhibition at The 240 Gal­lery, which runs through August, is her first solo show.

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