After nearly two decades of experience as a painter exhibiting in other people’s galleries, Cambodian artist Chhan Dina opened her own gallery in early 2022 as an easier way to show her own work and the work of others from the Phnom Penh artistic community.
The Chhan Dina Gallery has been drawing crowds of artists – both veterans and newcomers – on a regular basis since it first opened its doors on January 21 in the Khan Daun Penh district of the capital.
Chhan Dina said that on the opening day of her gallery she had 15 of her own paintings displayed as a solo exhibition that were all portraits of wildlife or people done on canvas using oil paints, with prices ranging from $900-$2,000 per painting.
“This is a good place to exhibit art work as the National Museum and the Friends Futures Factory are both around here, which is convenient for anyone looking for art,” Dina tells The Post.
Dina has been holding a new solo or group art exhibition at her gallery every month since it opened and will continue to do so at least until the end of 2022.
January was Dina’s solo exhibition to start things off. February was an exhibition of Chhim Sothy’s artwork and March had Suos Sodavy. Between the three of them they’ve won the Honoured Artist, Venerable Artist and Young Artist awards at the CMLTV Contemporary Art Awards at Mahasarakham University in Thailand, with Dina winning the youth award in 2016.
Dina also won the Female Artist Award for her creative and educational ideas about advocacy for social issues through paintings on the ABC Extra Stout Cambodia-sponsored show The Exceptional Person that aired in 2021, which was when she first spoke publicly about her plans for a gallery.
“I want to do something special to show art to the public and the younger generations, so I will open a gallery to display mine and others’ artworks and so people can learn more about the art of painting. It will be great to show the strength of Cambodian artists to foreigners, so they can see and better understand our creative ideas,” she said.
Her gallery then held a group exhibition in May and in June there was a solo exhibition of Nou Sary’s works. The latest exhibition by Meas Sokhorn titled Life with Arts opened on July 13.
Dina was born in Phnom Penh in 1984 and then spent her earliest years in a refugee camp near Poipet on the Thai-Cambodian border. She’s one of just a few female artists with a high profile in today’s Cambodian contemporary art scene and in the past she’s participated in the Cambodian Living Arts Fellows Programme.
Her work often explores themes like women’s roles in society and their experiences, but she’s also partial to depicting nature and wildlife. Her exhibition titled On the Verge of Extinction was focused on endangered bird species in Cambodia and another called Drawing the Golden Thread at the Intercontinental Hotel was also nature-themed.
The nature or wildlife aspects of her work are inspired by her own experiences whenever she’s gone on excursions to local rainforests and she says she then translates the imagery she encounters in that hyper-stimulating environment filled with flora and fauna onto her canvases using paint.
Dina’s style has developed throughout the years across a range of mediums however but with each venture into a new medium she maintains a motif such as birds, drizzled enamel, profile silhouettes or psychedelic brushstrokes, which she then uses to explore themes like loss, family, loneliness, celebration and love and her later works tend to be more abstract in nature when compared to her earlier paintings and sculptures
She’s also an art teacher who works with a number of NGOs and orphanages as a volunteer and at international schools on a professional paid basis and in the past, her artwork has been recognised and supported by the UN and at the ASEAN Women of the Future Awards in 2018. She has exhibited work internationally in Colombia, France, Singapore and the US.
A collection of 20 abstract paintings about a rare species of bird that holds an important place in Khmer traditions opened in the gallery of the Plantation Hotel in 2020, and Dina was interviewed about the goals of her work at that time.
“The aim is for the next generation of artists to gain an insight into the art of abstract painting, which focuses on the creation of their work in the future. It is important as an artist to be able to draw on something special from nature or the environment that we experience in our daily lives”, she explained.