Fifteen block print pictures by Cambodian double amputee artist Morn Chear will be displayed at TRIBE Cambodia Art Gallery in the creative hub of Siem Reap town from Thursday.
Entitled The Space Between, it is the first ever solo exhibition by Chear, who has perfected his rare technique of linocut block print artwork at Open Studio Cambodia in his home province of Kampot.
His pictures reflect Chear’s daily life as a disabled man in the Kingdom, from fixing his father’s shack, to doing housework, riding bikes and his relationship with his wife, who herself suffers from polio.
The couple have been married for six months, with the images celebrating their small moments of joy, tenderness and affection, also depicting his wife carrying out daily activities like laundry and preparing meals.
As a double amputee, Chear has had to be inventive in practicing his art, using his limbs to draw with a pencil on blocks of wood, carving wood using a chisel and using a roller to press ink on paper.
“Having been working here [Open Studio Cambodia] for nearly one year, I have created some block print pictures with support from Lauren Iida [the studio’s American founder]. She helped arrange my first solo exhibition, which reflects my life journey as a disabled man,” said the 29-year-old.
Chear lost both his hands in a workplace accident almost a decade ago.
“I was born with both limbs, but I was in an accident while I was working on a construction site. I was electrocuted when I was about 20-years-old, losing both my hands. I used to be able to do anything; I used to enjoy doing the things that normal people do. I fell into a great depression back then,” Chear recalled.
He said that he faced a lot of discrimination after the accident, even from people within his community.
“Some of them stopped calling me by my name. They started to call me a kombot [a derogatory word for an amputee] and so on ... It was totally unacceptable for me,” he said.
“I knew they were just kidding sometimes, but I still could not handle how they made fun of my disability. Some people would tell me, if they lost their arms like me, they would commit suicide by hanging themselves or jumping in the river. It was a joke to them, but it hurt my feelings a lot.”
It took Chear many years to accept his new reality without the use of his hands. But his life took a turn for the better once he met people from organisation Epic Arts in 2015.
“I was looking after a flock of ducks with my uncle when someone from Epic Arts began speaking to me. They were on a fieldtrip to recruit disabled students,” he said.
“They encouraged me and saved me from depression. I started to focus on myself and not care about how others see me. I stopped thinking about other people’s words and concentrated on polishing my art skills to achieve my dream. I decided to hear what I want to hear and I chose to listen to people who inspire me to be successful.”
Registered as a charity in the UK, Epic Arts is an international inclusive arts organisation based in Cambodia.
At Epic Arts, Chear was trained in performance and visual arts until 2017, at which point he was employed by the organisation.
The skills he learned at the organisation provided him with the ability to accept his condition and lifted his mood.
“I was trained in contemporary dance, singing, drawing and painting. Practicing art is my way to emotionally heal. When I was sad, I would sing or draw for a few hours and it would help relieve those feelings,” he said.
In 2018, he met American-Japanese artist Iida, founder of Open Studio Cambodia. It was with her that he was inspired to pursue his talent in linocut block print artwork, a technique rarely seen in the Kingdom.
He worked part-time for Iida’s studio in Kampot town for nearly one year, before finally deciding to leave his role at Epic Arts this July and continue his art journey with Open Studio Cambodia.
“I’ve been practicing contemporary dance, performing, singing and painting. Among all of these, I would love most to become a visual artist creating paintings, drawings and images with freedom and imagination,” Chear said.
Chear has previously created some work for group exhibitions at Open Studio Cambodia, while he has also had some of his prints and postcards on sale in Iida’s hometown of Seattle.
It was Iida who supported him when arranging his first solo exhibition at TRIBE Cambodia Art Gallery, where established and emerging Khmer artists are invited to showcase their work, tell their stories and explore their artistic potential.
Chear and his wife are currently residing in Kampot while he pursues his art career with Open Studio Cambodia.
“I believe that my disability cannot decide my destiny. Some people take things they have for granted. For me, even though I’m disabled, I can still do a lot of good things to contribute to people around me.
“I can show my talent in art on stage and at exhibitions to help inspire those like me and other people in general. This is my pride and my inspiration to live by,” he said.
The Space Between exhibition is open to the public from August 1 to 31 at TRIBE Cambodia Art Gallery on Central Market Street in Siem Reap town.
Chear’s block print pictures are for sale between $170 to $250 each. The opening reception on Thursday will start at 6:30pm and will feature a singing performance by Chear.