From The Cambodia Daily, October 25, 2000

Handcrafted Silk Batik Mixes With
Traditional Khmer Art

By Ana Nov and Jody McPhillips

Long Sophea, a textile artist, mastered her craft studying in Cambodia and Russia. She understands color and design, weaving and fabric technology. But when she came back to Cambodia in 1992, she quickly realized at least some of those skills were not going to be immediately useful. Cambodia, still in the final throes of its long civil wars, had none of the sophisticated machinery the developed world uses to produce fabrics, draperies, and carpets.

"Everything here is done by hand," explained Ly Daravuth, co-director of the Reyum Gallery, which has mounted an exhibit of Long Sophea's batiks that opens at 5 PM today. So Long Sophea, one of Cambodia's few professional female artists, turned her creativity in a new direction. She had studied ancient Khmer art and wanted to use classic motifs in new ways.


Artist Long Sophea hand paints a piece of silk.

"I began to think of working in silk while I was still in Russia," she said. After all, she explained, Cambodia makes among the best silk in the world. The result is an exquisite series of hand-painted silks that incorporate  elements  of  traditional Khmer design with Long Sophea's brilliant sense of color and form. She uses the batik process, in which wax is used to make designs on cloth, preventing the fabric from absorbing applied color. When the wax is removed, additional colors can be applied, creating complicated and interesting effects.

"It is not new in other countries, but I think it is new to Cambodia," she said. She said she loves silk for its transparency and affinity for pure, clear colors, the way it can transmit light and how it can be viewed from either side. "She likes to do very precise work," Ly Daravuth said. "She is a true artisan in the very best sense of the word, doing things perfectly, little by little."

Long Sophea said with a laugh that she wouldn't be able to do anything at all were it not for the support of her husband and fellow-artist, Hor Kim Srean, who helps her raise their two children.

"Sometimes we trade, and do each other's jobs," she said. "Also, we have good neighbors." Hor Kim Srean, who is a professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts, also runs a decorating and interior design business with his wife. Long Sophea's work will be on display at Reyum Gallery, 47 St 178, through December. Individual pieces are priced between $80 and $600.