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Molding the Future for Pagoda Craftsmanship

Nou Sotheavy / Khmer Times Share:
A beginning of a mold for a statue built in front of Wat Ounalom. Photo: Provided

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – Men Sovann has dedicated his life to the development of the temples and monument skyline of the Kingdom. As an artist, constructor, sculptor and teacher, Mr. Men has worked on building over a hundred of the most intricate and detailed religious works. Now he is busy preparing for the next generation to learn the craft through modern technology of 3D printing.

A Lonely Road

Mr. Men was born during the era of genocide and mayhem in the province of Stung Treng. His father died when Mr. Men was one year old, leaving him as the youngest of five children and with a different father from his siblings. He was ostracized from the rest of his family and spent most of his time on his own. 

Collecting recyclables as a child, his mother refused for her son to lead a futile life and ordained him into the monkhood at the age of 15 in 1995. 

Introduced to art from illustrating and painting Buddhist stories on the walls of the temples, he found that he had a steady hand at calligraphy and a good eye for art. In his free time, Mr. Men would spend time at a nearby art school to gleam artistic tips from master craftsmen. There he learned how to shape his skills into sculpting and carving. 

The Riverfront Legacy

Currently working with a team of builders, Mr. Men has traveled to many provinces and created molds from carving clay ceramics and pouring in fiberglass and silicone. His designs decorate the walls and pagodas all over the country, some of which take years to build.

Mr. Men’s desigs of colorful “Neets” or Nagas adorns the kingdom’s mountainous region and his elegant street lamps light the streets. But one of his most interesting pieces lay mysterious on the walk way of the riverfront. In front of the royal temple, Wat Ounalom,  on the Sisowath Quay street – is a statue caught in time, of two men riding horses. 

Preservation in a Digital Age

The design was the brainchild of a group of artists planning to incorporate the historical general and warlord’s effigy into the city planning. Mr. Men and his team created the mold that helped sculpt the statues and frames. The details of the men’s faces and the horse’s leg muscles took three days for Mr. Men and his team to construct. “They give us the photos and we make it,” he said humbly.

Planning to save his designs on computer so he can teach future craftsmen, Mr. Men knows that incorporating new technology into his work may help preserve the disappearing art. “There are not many people joining the monkhood like before,” Mr. Man said with a weary smile. 

Looking to no lose the craft like the ones which built the temples of Angkor Wat, Mr. Man hopes to encourage more young people to learn by providing more access to the information.

“Soon I will 3D print all my molds,” Mr. Men explained. “Before I did everything by hand, now I can work from afar and send my designs to be printed and used.”

Men Sovann and his finished Naga piece. Photo: Provided

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