As the country develops more quickly than seems technically possible, Cambodia’s landscape is increasingly filled with glitzy billboards for Korean products and commercial electronics ads. Even so, you’ll still find a dwindling numbers of traditional hand-painted signs all over the country.
Next month Cambodia Living Arts will open a new gallery and its debut exhibition, Living Cambodia through Signs opens December 4th at 6pm and features photographs by Sam Roberts of hand-painted signs in Kratie as well as some of the original signs. Photographs and original signs will be for sale, with all profits benefiting Cambodia Living Arts’ programs. Roberts has also recently released a book, Hand-Painted Signs of Kratie, which features more than 170 photographs of Cambodia’s hand-painted signs, as well as the stories of some of the men that paint them.
Cambodia Living Arts is a local non-profit organization that seeks to preserve historic Cambodian arts such as traditional performing arts and musical instruments and techniques that have become threatened since the Khmer Rouge era. (Be sure to catch their dance and music performances in front of Phnom Penh’s National Museum at 7pm Monday to Saturday). The hand-painted sign exhibition will run from December 4th through January 5th, 2013.
Cambodia’s hand-painted signs are part of the country’s fading cultural heritage — many Cambodians seem to think that shiny and generic is preferable to the old-fashioned. In his book, Roberts documents signs replete with flying pigs, retro hairstyles and hand grenades, as well as many other mundanities that offer a window into Khmer life and culture, from ads for skin-whitening cream to intricate paintings of the Khmer language.
Roberts writes, “Cambodia is a country awash with hand-painted signs, but behind their quirky nature is a story entwined with the country’s own troubled history.”
If you’re in Phnom Penh, be sure to check out the show at Cambodia Living Arts, otherwise, have a look at Roberts’ book.