Leang Seckon | Apey Mutrak | 2002 | Java Creative Cafe


Apey Mutrak

April 29 – June 2, 2002
Java Creative Cafe Independence Monument


As a young Cambodian artist, I am the heir to a rich yet troubled tradition. Cambodia has a long history of artists, dating back to the artisans who built Angkor Wat. At that time art was an integral part of Cambodian life. In the 1970s the Khmer Rouge decimated this tradition. It was forbidden to paint or draw and those suspected of being artists were killed. The Khmer Rouge were even suspicious of color, mandating that only black and white be worn. Over the past few decades Cambodia has been struggling to recover its own artistic identity. In my own work I pose the question: What constitutes modern Cambodian art?

My subjects are based on the Cambodian experience, I have made work that draws its inspiration from Hinduism and Buddhism (the key influential religions), Cambodian culture and history—especially the Khmer Rouge era. Through my own research I pull the past and present together with raw materials and compose them to make statements about current social and political issues. Many young people don’t know about our past or what the previous generations have gone through. As an artist I want to show where we have come from and where we are going.

Many Cambodian artists aspire to make work that mimics photography. I believe my own work, although less representational, is more real. When I make collages, I bring the real world in to my work with the notes, photographs, and materials I stitch on to the canvas. It is then necessary for me to paint and draw on and around the materials to create a full concept. If I were to just paint a picture the public might say I had invented it, but a collage offers a form of documentation because the objects within it are a part of history. My work presents the reality of young Cambodians in a concrete way.


I was born in Prey Veng province, Cambodia, 28 years ago (at the time this was first published). I studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts, receiving certificates in Ancient Art (1994) and Modern Art (1997). At the end of 2002, I will complete the decoration certificate of Architecture.

Inspiration of the current work being shown came from my studies with American artist, Mr. Chis Lawson in 1999, who introduced me to the technique of collage. Using this technique in my own style I began to produce new works some of which were published on the front cover of the Cambodia Daily Weekend edition. I’ve also had illustrations published in the local Vibe magazine. I was awarded for the first place entry by UNFPA and second place by UNESCO in 2000 for individual art contests. And in my spare time I perform as a singer.

The Java community art spaces operate as non-profit programs with support from the cafe and private sponsors. It brings art to the Phnom Penh public in ways they may not normally experience with beautiful and thought-provoking exhibitions and live events.

Some of our archived files have low resolution or don’t exist at all. Sometimes we were focused more on making exhibitions than archiving. Additionally, a fire many years ago destroyed all of our hard copies and a significant portion of our digital copies. If you are the artist or have access to images, press or anything else related to the exhibition, please contact us.