Meander Valley Gazette

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Cambodian carving

Arts and Reviews, FeatureJoanne Eisemann

By Sharon Webb

COOL TEMPERATURES during the Tasmanian Craft Fair were a new experience for four visiting Cambodian artists and sculptors demonstrating their skills at the Deloraine event this year.

Accustomed to the 30C-plus temperatures of their homes in Siem Reap in Cambodia’s north, the artists rugged up with scarves and jackets to combat cold November winds.

Their manager, installation artist Svay Sareth, said the four were having an outstanding trip to Tasmania; stone sculptors Rath Phun and Chab Khchao had never been out of Cambodia before he said.

“We are staying in a stone cottage in Dunorlan and loving it,” he said.

“It was arranged for us by the Deloraine Rotarians; we have never stayed in such a place before.

“We are interested to see the support for young artists in Australia; in our country to be an artist is to take a risk.”

Svay, whose large installation art was not being exhibited at the fair but can be seen in Hong Kong, South Korea, Berlin and New York, spoke for the two stone sculptors who have workshops at Artisans D’Angkor in Siem Reap.

There, tourists can see Rath and Chab and other craftspeople at work, using their ancient skills to make replica sculptures to rejuvenate the 9th – 15th century Angkor temple complex on a 162 hectare just outside Siem Reap – temples only uncovered from the jungles in recent decades and which are now Cambodia’s biggest tourist attraction.

The fourth Cambodian, Nguon Savann Melea, is communications director at Artisans D’Angkor and showed fair-goers stunning silk scarves and handbags made from fabrics created at Cambodian silkworm farms and their attached weaving mills.

Svay described bringing large slabs of stone to Tasmania, used by Rath and Chab to sculpt an elephant and an ancient Khmer king during the craft fair.

But he also spoke to Rotarians in particular about the precarious political situation in Cambodia and the impact of China on the world economy.

These subjects are embedded in Svay’s contemporary art, some of which has been collected by the National Gallery in Melbourne. Having grown up in a refugee camp in Cambodia during the 1970s and 1980s, a time of the notorious communist government of Pol Pot, the themes of war and resistance are always present in his work.

Announced Contemporary Asian Artist of the Year in 2016, Svay’s message is ultimately positive: “Artists have the possibility of power to change things for the new generation,” he said

Visiting Cambodian artists displayed their unique talents at the Deloraine Craft Fair this year. Photo by Mike Moores

Visiting Cambodian artists displayed their unique talents at the Deloraine Craft Fair this year. Photo by Mike Moores