What if, instead of taking photos, someone sketched scenes while on a trip, stressing the pure lines of a building or the movements of a fisherman?
After a lifetime of travels, Sok Mathoeung has accumulated series of such drawings, which capture the emotion and form of moments rather than details of people and places.
A sampling of of his work is now on exhibition at the French Cultural Center.
In the text introducing “Notepad from Life,” which combines words and sketches, Sok Mathoeung speaks of his fascination for “all these lines that define the culture of a country and the memory of its people.
“I don’t always understand, but I get close. Walking on eggshells, I discover; I try not to make noise. Then, on tiptoes, I go away,” he says.
The result is a collection of impressions set in time with ink—an outdoor restaurant near a historical monument in Udong, the Great Wall of China fading in the distance, a man sleeping on a bench in Paris.
An economist who studied in Phnom Penh and in Paris in the 1960s and 1970s, Sok Mathoeung spent most of the 1980s in Mauritania. From that period, he brought back visions of men and their camels with sand of muted gold as a backdrop, and also fishermen—he worked for the Fisheries Ministry in that country.
He returned to Cambodia in the early 1990s as a staff member for Untac and had the opportunity to attend the water festival at Angkor Wat in 1993.
His rendering of that temple shows one of the long galleries engulfed in shadows, with a glimpse of the towers. On a drawing of the Bayon temple, the famous faces appear as haunting as ever.
Most of Sok Mathoeung’s line drawings are in black and white.
Sok Mathoeung’s exhibition was unveiled to the public at an opening on Sept 14.
The exhibition will stay in Phnom Penh until Sept 28. It will then move to Siem Reap for one month, and may travel to Battambang afterwards.