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Soeung Vannara
Fire and Spirit

1999 Oil on canvas
145 x 105 cm

Soeung Vannara studied at the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh during the early 1980s. He was later sent to Poland to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, from which he received his M.F.A. in "monumental painting" (fresco and wall painting) in 1993. He is currently a lecturer in painting at the Faculty of Plastic Arts of the Royal University of Fine Arts.

"There is a common belief that people are formed by combining the four basic elements of water, earth, wind, and fire. As long as these elements remain joined together, people live. These elements, however, are only borrowed, and they are slowly given back over a life time. With the smoke and ash of their death, people return to the separate elements that they originally were. Only their spirit floats up, often eventually entering into another person, newly born. When people die because of terrible deeds and torture, what happens to their spirits? Do these spirits rest peacefully? Can they enter a new born or not? My painting reflects on these questions. The central sweep of reds and yellows recalls the basic elements of fire and smoke while the contrasting blue and green areas invoke water, ash, wind, and clouds. The forms in these areas are wave like, echoing natural elements but also taking the shape of Kbach (Khmer ornaments). Half of the central face of the praying figures dissolves, burning and flowing, continuing on into another form. Other half faces, features, and remains of objects are woven into the shapes and colors. I try to express spirits and what they leave behind."

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