Young Battambang Artist Finds Traces of Hope in Suffering

The exhibition that opens Friday night at the Sammaki community center in Battambang City features the work of a young Cambodian artist determined to produce art against all odds.

The show, “Life is Suffering,” features the work of Lous Piseth: portraits of people in charcoal and pencil on card canvas, a reflection on being human.

A drawing from Lous Piseth's series 'Life is Suffering' (Geordie Hay)
A drawing from Lous Piseth’s series ‘Life is Suffering’ (Geordie Hay)

“It doesn’t matter whether people are rich or poor, it doesn’t matter how young or old they are, they all experience suffering,” the 24-year-old artist said in an interview Wednesday. “It’s the reality of life on Earth.”

The exhibition mainly features Cambodians of the countryside, their faces expressing the hardship they contend with on a daily basis, because Mr. Piseth’s own world has been filled with such individuals.

In one drawing, an emaciated old man wrapped in a blanket looks straight at the viewer, his face stoic. In another, an old woman—perhaps a beggar—wipes tears and sweat from her face.

But despite the poverty, there is also joy. In another work, a woman, her hair wrapped in a krama, laughs while holding a child, while in yet another, a boy riding a water buffalo in a river is all smiles.

Friday’s exhibition will be the first solo show by Mr. Piseth, who became an artist through sheer determination. As a child, he said, “I was always doing all kinds of drawings on the ground or paper.”

The second son in a family of farmers that lived outside Battambang City, he had to drop out of school in 10th grade to work in the paddies. Then he heard about Phare Ponleu Selpak, the Battambang organization providing free art training to Cambodians from poor neighborhoods.

Mr. Piseth started attending classes at Phare in 2005. Because he had to work during the rainy season, however, he never completed the program, according to Sre Bandol, one of Phare’s founders and teachers. But it was evident to Mr. Bandol that Mr. Piseth had talent.

During a group exhibition at Sammaki a few months ago, visitors purchased three of Mr. Piseth’s drawings. This led the center to offer him a solo show, said Darren Swallow, one of Sammaki’s board members.

“Sammaki’s whole reason is for young artists to learn and grow …get feedback from their peers, from the collectors and visitors to the gallery,” Mr. Swallow said.

The exhibition at Sammaki, located on Street 2.5, opens Friday at 5 p.m.,

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