Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Erased but not forgotten: portrait inspires reflection



Erased but not forgotten: portrait inspires reflection

Thary’s portrait has been reproduced and shared on social media. VIA FACEBOOK
Thary’s portrait has been reproduced and shared on social media. VIA FACEBOOK

Erased but not forgotten: portrait inspires reflection

Zealous bureaucrats, state censorship or simply crossed wires – it’s hard to untangle the motivations behind the Phnom Penh municipality’s decision to paint over the celebrated spray-can portrait on the side of the White Building.

The 10-metre-high portrait of seamstress and building resident Moeun Thary was painted by Californian artist Miles “El Mac” MacGregor as part of a project called “Igloo Hong” in early December, and vanished overnight on December 16.

City Hall representative Long Dimanche said it was simply a question of incomplete paperwork, and requested that the media stop wasting their time on the story.

But three weeks after the artwork’s removal, it seems that the image of Thary lifting her needle and looking skywards will take more than a rushed paint job to eclipse.

Since the mural was destroyed, it has spawned a host of tributes: local residents, and some further afield, are sharing the image on social media and creating fan art based around El Mac’s design.

Victor Blanco, an art teacher at Limkokwing University and the administrator of the Graffiti Cambodia Facebook page, said it was the first time he had seen his students so taken with a particular image.

“Graffiti has been around for a while, and people who care will notice it,” he said. “But something like this, because of what’s happened, it’s really sparked people’s interest.”

One Phnom Penh-based student, a 24-year-old who asked to be known only by his nickname “Ra”, has printed a copy of the design onto a T-shirt.

He said he had never been interested in street art before, but was moved by the execution of the painting and its message, which he described as “to value Cambodian women”.

“I think it would not have been that famous if it was not removed from the building,” he reflected. “When they removed it, people were getting angry and hateful.”

Neither El Mac, nor graffiti artist David Choe – who spearheaded and funded the trip to Cambodia – have commented directly on the removal of the portrait.

But Choe has compiled a collage of the fan art made in response, which he has regularly shared as a response to adoring comments left by Khmer fans on his Facebook page.

Choe also concluded his lengthy blog post about the group’s trip to Cambodia with a less-than-cryptic comment: “When you silence art, it only gets louder”.

Away from the youth chatter, the mural’s controversy has also gifted Thary a powerful fan in the form of CNRP opposition politician Mu Sochua, who has written publicly about the seamstress in glowing terms: “She IS the thread that binds the family and the nation together,” Sochua wrote on her Facebook account, where she has changed her profile picture to a photograph of the mural.

In an email to Post Weekend, Sochua said she had sent multiple messages to David Choe’s team asking for permission to reproduce the artwork as T-shirts: “A group of concerned friends and I want to go further to honour Mrs Moeun Thary and other female artists who are keeping the dying arts alive. But I need the authorisation to use the original photo,” she explained.

Choe and El Mac have yet to respond to the inquiry, and to requests for comment from Post Weekend.

For her part, Moeun Thary has no reservations about becoming an icon of the White Building. “Young people came to me and asked to print my face on T-shirts,” she reported cheerfully yesterday.

“I am so excited when they talk with me. The next young generation gives more value to women as a mother.” 

MOST VIEWED

  • Hun Sen: Full country reopening to be decided in two weeks

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has announced that if the Covid-19 situation remains stable for 15 consecutive days from the end of the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, Cambodia will reopen fully, albeit in the context of Covid-19 whereby people have to adjust their lives to

  • Cambodia sets new Covid-19 quarantine rules

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Cambodia unveils new quarantine regulations

    The government has modified Covid-19 quarantine requirements, shortening the duration for, among others, Cambodian officials, foreign diplomats and delegations, investors and inbound travellers in general. According to an official notice signed by Minister of Health Mam Bun Heng late on October 16, quarantine length for Cambodian

  • Hun Sen: Cambodia set to fully reopen

    Prime Minister Hun Sen concludes that the October 5-7 Pchum Ben public holiday, during which many people either flocked to their hometowns for family reunion or gathered at tourist attractions across the country, has not caused an outbreak of Covid-19. In a special address to

  • Will Evergrande change the way Chinese developers do business in Cambodia?

    China’s property sector policy has exposed the grim financial condition of real estate developers including those operating in Cambodia, which raises questions over the viability of their projects and business going forward The dark blue netting draping over one of Yuetai Group Co Ltd’

  • Phnom Penh governor: Show Covid-19 vaccination cards, or else

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng late on October 5 issued a directive requiring all people aged 18 and over and the parents of children aged 6-17 to produce Covid-19 vaccination cards when entering schools, markets, malls, marts, eateries and other business establishments that have been permitted