Artwork by Kim Hak

Opening reception, June 20, 2008



For Kim Hak, Banyan tree leaves are not only the subject of his work, but also the canvas on which he creates his work. He says, "This artwork, it links to my life. Everywhere I have been, I have been always looking [to] find Buddha's leaves." The leaves represent the path his life's journey has taken; each leaf coming from a specific location he has traveled to within Southeast Asia, including: Siem Reap, Battambang, Koh Kong, and Phnom Penh in Cambodia, as well as Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.

He began collecting Banyan tree leaves many years ago when he was at Angkor Wat. One day his colleague said, "Somewhere, there is one leaf on one bodhi tree which has the image of the Buddha on it." He realized his friend was only joking, but he began to imagine making this idea come true. Soon, he found himself painting images of the Buddha in gold on his dried and pressed leaves. He felt suddenly peaceful as he focused on the details and the lines, infusing the images with a deep personal reverence.

Banyan (or Bodhi) trees, found all over Southeast Asia, are famous in Cambodia for their pervasive presence in the Angkor Wat temple complex. This tree has both historical and practical significance to Buddhists throughout the region. After attaining enlightenment the Buddha is believed to have sat under a banyan tree for seven days, absorbed in his newfound understanding. These trees are also used for practical purposes, serving as communal meeting places to gather in the shade, relax, discuss issues and make decisions. The name banyan is derived from merchants called Banias, who originally rested under the tree to discuss their strategies.

Though Kim Hak's artwork is filled with Buddhist imagery he insists that he is not making religious art. He says even though the drawings are centered around the environment of Buddhism, the "meanings themselves focus mainly on general daily life; of people studying, family, love of parents for the children and so on." He is using the visual vocabulary of Buddhism to create his own metaphors about daily occurrences in Cambodia. The simple titles often do not correspond to what we believe the image is meant to symbolize, making us stop to think about the new associations he is making to traditional imagery. He says, "The lotus is a Buddhist symbol, but here the meaning behind the piece is not about Buddhism, it is more about human life."


Kim Hak was born in 1981 to a family of rice farmers in Battambang. He lives in Phnom Penh and currently works for Asian Trails Cambodia. Kim Hak is a not formally trained artist, but has instead relied on self-discipline and inspiration from other artists and the traditions of Angkor.

With the support of:
The Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation – The Rockefeller Foundation -
The Prince Claus Fund