Modern artist Mr. Leang Seckon
– First, can you tell us what made you decide that you want to be an artist?
Although I didn’t know what art was, as a kid I liked to sketch people’s lives and the nature of the village I grew up in. When I thought about what I wanted to do after the civil war ended, luckily I knew someone who worked for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, so I contacted him. Looking back, I think being an artist might have been a natural choice for me. In my case, I studied Traditional Painting, Modern Painting, and even Architectural Design so it took me 10 years to graduate from school. When I was in school, most of the teachers were quite old because of what happened in the civil war unlike nowadays when most teachers are around my age.
– What do you often pick up as a theme of your work?
I use my life as a theme for my work. However, things happen in your everyday life so I do not rely only on the past. Sometimes my memories of the past become a theme but sometimes modern society does. I went through a lot of events during the civil war and I think art saved me on every occasion. There are paintings with such a strong message that they can agitate anger in your mind but art for me is something that soothes me because I spend a long time facing it. This is a story from my childhood. There was a beautiful woman in our village but then the city started. One day I saw her and she looked completely different. She had shaved her head, smeared charcoal on her face, and was in man’s clothes. She did all of them so as not to be raped by the soldiers. That naturally gave me strong anger and remained as a loathsome memory inside me. But I dared to make a piece of work out of it and confronted it. It was not easy but after finishing the work I felt calm because I had to face the memory to work on it. As art for me is such a thing, no matter how dark a theme of my painting is there’s something beautiful drawn in every one of my works.
– What is your idea on the connection between modern art and politics?
I don’t think modern art has anything to do with politics because politics reside in various situations in your daily life. So I paint sometimes with politics as a theme but I don’t like to be called a political artist. Artists should depict things from a different angle rather than just replicating them.
– How deeply do you think is modern art received in Cambodia?
Modern art is not as well understood in Cambodia as in other countries, to be honest. It is true that art has an aspect that requires viewers to have certain knowledge and comprehend the background of artworks. However, when villagers look at my work, they don’t leave negative comments. A lot of them find the fabrics I use for my work interesting such as paper, fabric, and leather.
– What do you expect from young Khmer artists?
I think a lot of them study very much and show respect for artworks from our generation. There’s only one thing I expect from them and that is to be original. How original they become and how original work they produce. That’s the only thing I expect.
Born in 1970 at the onset of the American bombings of Indochina and grew up during the rise of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. Leang Seckon is one of the few remaining artists in Cambodia who directly experienced the Khmer Rouge period. After graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in 2002, his work has been shown widely in various locations, including Hong Kong, Fukuoka, London, New York and etc.