Svay Ken

b. 1933

SVAY Ken was born in Takeo province. He was one of four children in a family of farmers. When he was six, his mother and father sent him to the Wat to study the Khmer alphabet and moral precepts. At age 14, he became a novice monk and went to Phnom Penh in order to study Pali. He returned to Takeo in 1952 and shortly thereafter left the monkhood in order to help his parents in their fields. In 1955, SVAY Ken left Takeo once again in order to look for work in Phnom Penh. With the help of an uncle, he managed to secure a position first as a coolie and then as a general server at the Hotel Royal where he would work for almost forty years. In 1963, SVAY Ken's parents arranged his marriage to a distant cousin. Together the couple eventually had one daughter and four sons. In 1975, the Pol Pot regime forced the family to leave Phnom Penh and go to work in the fields of Takeo province. Returning to Phnom Penh in October of 1979, SVAY Ken continued to work at the Hotel Royal as a waiter and server until his retirement in 1994. It was during these later years at the Hotel that SVAY Ken started to make sketches of everyday Cambodian life. He says that he began to draw and paint because he didn't want his children and grandchildren to forget the ordinary ways of life found in Cambodia's countryside. His work gradually caught the attention of the guests passing through the hotel and after his retirement from the Hotel, SVAY Ken opened his own roadside gallery at the nearby Wat Phnom. SVAY Ken was recently chosen as Cambodia's entry in the Fukuoka Art Trienniale (spring 1999). Articles about his work have appeared in numerous publications including Asian Art News, Vietnam Times and The New York Times.

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More on Svay Ken

Ground level perspective of Cambodia
from the Phnom Penh Post, July 6-19, 2001

One Cambodian’s ‘Life of struggle,’ in 128 Scenes
from The New York Times, July 9, 2001. The same article appeared in the International Hearld Tribune (July 10, 2001) and the Bangkok Post (July 22, 2001).

En 128 tableaux, Svay Ken peint une vie, la sienne
(French), from Cambodge Soir, June 22-24, 2001

The Legacy of Absence: A Cambodian Story, a Reyum exhibition

Painted Stores, a Reyum exhibition