More than two dozen teenagers who once begged for money and lived on the streets of Siem Reap town are this week expressing themselves and their lives through art.
“Pictures just wouldn’t be able to capture the pride that the kids felt,” Green Gecko Project co-founder Tania Palmer said of the art show’s Monday opening in Siem Reap.
“Two years ago, it was in that alleyway that those kids used to beg and hassle the tourists. And here they were in that exact same street [showing their artwork in a professional gallery],” she said.
The Green Gecko Project, which feeds and educates street children in Siem Reap, held a five-week painting workshop for street kids with artists Sasha Constable and Oun Savann.
The results went on display Monday and will remain through Saturday at the McDermott Gallery 2 in Siem Reap, near the Old Market and Pub Street, where tourists abound and street children flock at night.
The 26 children, all but six of them painting for the first time, first began learning about composition and color theory, mixing their own colors from blue, red and yellow, Constable said.
Inspired by photographs and the works of other artists, they then painted their own interpretation on the theme of animals, she added. Each child also wrote an artist statement in Khmer and English, demonstrating their newly acquired language skills.
“At first I found it hard to express my feelings, but once I started, I feel I can do it. I feel happy to draw picture. I paid much attention to my drawing, and when I finished it I feel I am wonderful,” wrote 13-year-old Tou on her work “Achievement of Khmer Ancestors.”
Although some of the children were a bit hesitant at first, they grew more confident once they understood there is no right or wrong in art, Constable said.
“I think it’s a good educational tool and good empowering tool to get them to connect with their creativity,” she said.
“And there’s some good artists among them; it will be interesting to see how they develop,” she added.
The paintings will now be sold via a silent auction going on all week at the gallery. All proceeds will go the children’s next creative venture, and they will decide together what that will be, Palmer said.