New Exhibition Sheds Light on Lives of the Poor

Hour Seyha’s exhibition opening Thursday at Romeet Gallery is titled after a well-known Cambodian proverb that, in his opinion, describes the situation and fate of poor children in the country.

“Kangkeb knong andoung,” or “Frog in the Well,” refers to people with a limited outlook.

A detail from 'Begging or Cultivating' by Hour Seyha. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
A detail from ‘Begging or Cultivating’ by Hour Seyha. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“Like a frog in a well, poor people often have a narrow vision of the world,” Mr. Seyha said.

Their universe can be defined by fear, he said. “I mean fear of not having enough food to eat, fear of having no money to send children to school…with small kids ending up in heavy jobs to help bring money to the family.”

Mr. Seyha has expressed this by outlining people in vivid colors in acrylic and oil paintings, at times making their faces but a blur.

In his work “Manufacture of the Poor,” a family is sitting on the ground, a baby suckling at his mother’s breast. They stand against a background of mats with vertical bands of blue, red and yellow, the ground made of colored dots of various sizes. As Mr. Seyha explained, poor couples often are not aware of birth control methods and end up with more children than they can ever feed.

Some children grow up being constantly screamed at by parents who can no longer emotionally cope with the situation. The 24-year-old artist said he tried to express this situation in the work “Weight of Life since Childhood,” a dramatic scene in which a young man dressed in short pants has his head completely bent backward against a backdrop of blue and red dots.

“Children born in poor families never achieve their dreams,” Mr. Seyha said.

“I used to live in an orphanage for kids without parents or with poor parents. When I asked, every single one of them had a dream of becoming a doctor, artist, actor or teacher.” But unable to get an education or even learn a skill, their dreams faded away with their childhood, he added.

Mr. Seyha was himself born to a poor family and had to drop out of school in seventh grade. After working on a rubber plantation in Thailand, he was arrested by the Thai authorities as he was trying to return to Cambodia. He ended up at the center of the NGO Komar Rikreay, or happy children, in 2005 and was later able to study at the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school in Battambang City.

The exhibition consists of a series of 20 oil and acrylic works of various sizes that Mr. Seyha began painting in mid-2013 and completed late last week. “I spent three week painting in the forest in Oddar Meanchey province. I wanted to express emotions and people’s feelings of fear in the artworks, and this meant overcoming my own fear of being in the forest.”

The exhibition at Romeet Gallery on Street 178 opens Thursday at 6:30 p.m. It will run through July 27.

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