The moment I stepped foot into Leang Seckon’s two-storey home, I knew I was in for a one of a kind treat – a walk-through of Cambodia’s past and present moments through masterfully created pieces of art. His home, painted mostly in white, is a gallery in itself as more than a dozen canvas filled with colours, images and collages are displayed on the first floor. Each canvas holds with it a story Mr Seckon would unselfishly share to people who show genuine interest in his art.
The 47-year old artist, who is a native of Prey Veng province, spent his childhood running and keeping cover from bombs and guns during the civil war and the regime of Pol Pot.
Mr Seckon started drawing figures, mixing colours of grey, yellow and gold and cutting out photographs, news prints and fabrics when he was twelve. “I turn my nightmares and pain into something beautiful. Because I can’t punch back or drop bombs to those people who made us suffer, I decided to express my pain through this art,” he reasoned.
All his masterpieces depict the Cambodian society – culture, politics, religions, environment, wars, people, and modernity. Some of them may even be controversial and a little provocative, but Mr Seckon knows that his art pieces are meant to deliver a message.
Mr Seckon’s expertise and creativity in mixed media may have been born out of his desire to reconcile with a ruthless past, but it definitely led him to opportunities of getting recognised in Asia and beyond.
YT: What are the common themes of your artworks?
Mr Seckon: My artworks are very contemporary but you can see that I mix it up with Cambodian traditions and history. I want my artworks to represent society, culture and beliefs. I want to let the people see my interpretation of the past and the modern world.
In one of my works, Journey Across the Border, it shows three images of Buddha. They have different faces and their bodies are made of leather cut-outs shaped into English and Khmer figures. That represent Cambodians’ confusion on their very own tradition and culture. Some people get confused and say “Is this Khmer? Is this really from Cambodia?” They get confused because they have been influenced by other cultures, by modernity.
That is always the centre theme – people’s questions and confusions on many things because of the outside influences. Social media, Wi-Fi, card games, migration, money, beer – they all influence Khmers. Sometimes these things give positive effects, but sometimes they don’t.
YT: When people look at your artworks, what do you want them to see and feel?
Mr Seckon: I want them to think about our own culture and understand it more. Every time I do something, I use my mind and heart. I do not copy anything from books or other people’s works. I draw from what I can see in my mind. Because I realised that what I learned in my school here is enough for me to become a good artist.
I don’t want to be influenced by others. What I know is enough and what I am is enough. I feel good and beautiful with who I am and with what I do. I want people to also know and feel that. I want them, especially modern Cambodians, to recognise our culture first. When we accept who we are, we will no longer be hungry for any other material things.
YT: You’ve been across continents to exhibit your works. How do you feel about getting internationally recognised?
Mr Seckon: I feel happy that people understand my art. When people go to my exhibits, they can connect with the images because they represent real happenings and emotions. I have been to Singapore, Japan, Hong Kong, London and many more to let people see my art. They also see the culture of Cambodia and the effects of the wars to the people through the images in my canvas.
YT: Aside from creating beautiful artworks, what else do you do?
Mr Seckon: I spend seven months making my artworks. After that, I get two months of rest and two months of doing something else like making my garden, sewing my own curtains or cleaning the environment. I also collect ancient pieces like silverwares, bronze jars, household items and farming materials.
Recently, I designed and built a stupa in Prey Veng. It’s a very beautiful stupa. I was really happy because I built it in my homeland. In the future, I am planning to build a library near the stupa for the children.
Mr Seckon is currently working on a masterpiece depicting Prime Minister Hun Sen. With a heart and mind so full of creativity and passion, he is also gearing for an exhibit at the Institute Francais du Cambodge Cultural Centre in April. And if his brilliance in mixed media isn’t enough to prove how talented of a person he is, Mr Seckon also has an undeniable flair in dancing, singing and writing poetry.