The Face of Cambodia

Yesterday evening some friends and I headed out for dinner intending to go to Le Cafe Mith Samlanh, which turned out to be closed.

As we wandered around in search of a new dinner spot, we stumbled across the Cambodian Mask Project exhibition, held at the beautiful Plantation Hotel.

The Cambodian Mask Project is an annual event where artists are given a larger than life cast of the Cambodian profile onto which they express their personal interpretation of Cambodian society.

The project’s website states that the end product “will be a contemporary exploration of the concepts of identity, role, history, past, present, and future in Cambodian society.”

The gallery displayed a beautiful array of colorful masks, all embodying the spirit of Cambodia through the eyes of both native Cambodians as well as several international artists.

Each mask was accompanied by an artist’s statement. Tight Gold, by David “Jam” Ramjattan (Canada) featured an under-layer of gold splattered with black and had a simple yet profound statement; “Tight gold is a reflection of the diluted foreign influence and its impact on Cambodia.”

One of my favorites titled, Reconstruction by Arnaldo Hurtado (USA), consisted of small rattan pieces that made up a partially completed silhouette. After having seen first had the tragic state of affairs dealing with land rights in Cambodia, this mask seemed to take on more than what is explained in the artists statement, as surely represents a relevant and crucial issue affecting Cambodian society today.

“Re-construction is based on my study of the current state of Cambodia. After living in a Cambodian community and in the house of a Cambodian family for nine months, I have learned that the culture of Cambodia is currently undergoing a re-construction. It was not too long ago that Cambodia lost so much of its identity: artists, painters, musicians, intellectuals, and families. The mask mosaic made of rattan pieces is meant to show the intricate and still in-progress re-construction of a rich and beautiful culture. Of course, culture is ever changing so one cannot say it is ever complete.”

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