Quartet of Mexican artists shipped press at own expense, worked with Tuol Sleng survivor Vann Nath
Ever since a team of four Mexican artists, led by Fernando Aceves Humana, arrived at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh last May, the classroom where they organize workshops on etching has been buzzing with activity.
This weekend, the public is invited to visit that classroom, now known as the Char Etching Studio, and view works by more than 20 Cambodian artists and art students, made over the course of the past four months on the first etching press ever brought to Cambodia.
Those prints, and some by Tuol Sleng prison camp survivor and artist Vann Nath, will be for sale to raise funds for the medical care of Mr Nath, who remains in critical condition at a hospital in Phnom Penh after lapsing into a coma last week.
As leading artist and RUFA teacher Chan Vitharin explained Friday, etching has been taught at the university since its establishment in the 1910s. Even in the 1960s, however, Cambodian artists used wood and printed etchings by hand since there was no press in the country, he said. Mr Vitharin said that even he had to travel to Chiang Mai in Thailand to learn metal etching techniques.
When the 390-kilogram etching press arrived in June, the news spread throughout the Phnom Penh artist community and brought several well-known artists to the studio to check out the new equipment.
Mr Nath had spent two weeks working with the press before he fell ill.
“Students were very happy to speak to [Mr Nath],” said Mr Aceves Humana, who along with three other Mexican artists bought the press and shipped it by boat from Mexico at their own expense.
According to Mr Aceves Humana, when the students heard about Mr Nath’s condition, they worked nonstop to print the seven pieces he had made so that some of them could be sold individually this weekend to raise money for his medical bills.
Mr Aceves Humana has also created a portfolio as a collectible item containing etchings from the leading artists who have so far worked at the studio such as Mr Nath, Sopheap Pich, Neak Sophal, Kong Vollak and Mr Vitharin, plus etchings from the Mexican artists.
Mr Aceves Humana, who has accumulated a long list of awards and currently has an exhibition touring Europe, is based in Oaxaca in Mexico. In the 1970s, a Mexican artist brought etching presses to Oaxaca.
“Thirty years later…people from the US and Europe come to Oaxaca to learn etching, and there are more private studios in Oaxaca than in Paris,” he said.
Ten years from now, he added, “We believe—we hope—that Cambodia can be known for its prints.”
The Char Etching Studio is located near the Royal University of Fine Arts University entrance on Street 178. The studio will be open all weekend from 9:30 am to 5 pm.