Portraits of Children Featured in New Battambang Exhibit

In a city known for artists who have embraced contemporary and abstract techniques, the Sammaki Community Arts center in Battambang is taking a bold step: an exhibition of realistic oil portraits of children.

The artworks are smoothly rendered in pastel paints, but deeply observed, showing the mundane details of how the children look and present themselves, from flip-flop tan lines to T-shirts depicting characters from Disney’s “Frozen.”

'Cleaning Day' by Im Pesey (Ben Valentine)
‘Cleaning Day’ by Im Pesey (Ben Valentine)

The show, which opens on Friday, aims to initiate a dialogue between artists practicing in different styles—which is precisely the mandate of the arts center, according to its adviser, Ben Valentine, who curated the exhibition along with center manager Heak Pheary.

While most artists in Battambang City were trained at the local NGO Phare Ponleu Selpak, those featured in the new show studied at the Yamada School of Art in Phnom Penh.

“We both felt that it would be a good opportunity to introduce artists from another school to launch the dialogue,” Mr. Valentine said.

The technique taught by Japanese painter Takakazu Yamada at the Yamada School of Art is unique in Cambodia, Ms. Pheary said.

“The colors…are the colors that have been used in Japanese artworks for centuries,” she said.

One of the painters whose work is featured in the exhibition is Im Pesey, a 24-year-old artist who graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh and studied at the Yamada school for two years.

His painting “Cleaning Day” shows a little girl sitting on a pile of plastic stools and gazing out at the viewer, calm and composed, with blankets on a clothesline behind her.

Mr. Pesey said he loved to paint children because of the hopes they carry. “Small children are like a blank canvas and can easily be spoiled by family and society,” he said.

“Born in families that understand the value of education, they will get what they need to become literate. But if they are born in a family and environment that don’t value education, their future will not be bright.”

The exhibition at Sammaki on Street 2.5 opens at 6 p.m. on Friday and runs through March 17.

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