Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) believes that arts and cultural expression are essential to a thriving future for Cambodia.  This month, we tell the story of Heak Pheary, an independent visual artists.

Heak Pheary, an artist from Battambang province, is best known for using garbage to create sculptures. She is a former drawing student at Phare Ponleu Selapak. For almost 10 years now, she has been working to build a career in the arts.

At first, her family, like many others, didn’t support her work in the arts, preferring her to study to become a doctor. However, the family soon stopped protesting after seeing Pheary start to earn an income from her first pieces, and seeing her name appear in the newspapers.

Committed to an arts career, she became manager of Samaki Arts Gallery in Battambang. At the same time, she taught students about the environment and creativity in the public school. Pheary says, “Some people thought that because I am young and didn’t have experience of management, this work wasn’t right for me. I was disappointed and I just wanted to show them that this girl can handle her work.”

Language and communication skills were a challenge for her. Her English was poor so it was hard for her to communicate about her artwork to foreigners. Her other main problem concerned resources. She couldn’t afford to buy materials to build her pieces, so to overcome this she decided to use plastic garbage instead.

She says, “I spent my evening times picking up plastic garbage along the street so I didn’t have to spend much money to create my pieces.”

In 2013, CLA gave her the opportunity to visit arts spaces in Thailand. She got new experiences and ideas, and brought them back to Samaki Gallery. In 2014, she won a scholarhip from a Japanese organisation to pursue her drawing classes in Phnom Penh for seven months. Now, she is one of CLA’s 2017 Living Arts Fellows, a personal and professional development programme for artists and arts managers.

Pheary wants her work to be recognised internationally, and to show that high-quality abstract art is created in Cambodia. She wants to prove that women can work in the same roles as men, and benefit from going out into the world and gaining new experiences in the same way as men. She wants to open an arts class at her hometown, and teach children how garbage can be used to create meaningful art.

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