2 Cambodian Friends

Chov Theanly Questioning

Khmer Arts & Heritage Ltd present a Cambodian Artist’s Residency in Dorset, inspired by Cambodian Recollections. Dayanny So and Theanly Chov will be joined by Nadenh Poan.

See below Theanly’s artistic statement:

As a child of the Cold War, I was born in the People’s Republic of Kampuchea under Vietnamese occupation when the “Free World” placed an economic embargo on Cambodia and the Soviet Union was Cambodia’s most generous patron. Soviet patronage of Cambodia was why prints of Russian seascape and landscape paintings by un-named Russian “masters” were hung in my childhood home. These prints were hung alongside famous prints by Cambodia’s most famous pre-Khmer Rouge oil painter Nhek Dim, who favored depicting Cambodian landscapes, ancient archaeological sites and portraits.

These images were so beautifully depicted that even as a child I was moved by a desire to be able to capture what I see, in the way that these masters were able to. My curiosity was ignited and I was thirsty to learn more about the technical side of drawing and painting. Though I never received formal training, in 1999 I began to learn how to paint from my uncle, who was a sign painter. I was able to refine my skills through his mentorship, as well as my own initiative through painting and portrait lessons, found on the internet. I was especially focused on aesthetics, wanting my work to be as beautiful and moving as those prints that were so influential to me as a child.

Theanly Chov

After finishing high school in 2004 I studied graphic design at the Vocational Training Center of Battambang until the program’s completion in 2007. I then moved to Phnom Penh where I worked as a graphic designer. The move to Phnom Penh afforded me the chance to meet with other young Khmer and international artists, and I took this opportunity to attend various exhibitions as a way meet my fellow artists and learn about various artistic styles, forms, as well as art history. Through this effort I encountered new forms of expression and an artistic freedom that I had not previously known. Though these works were quite different from my own aesthetic and technical preference, having been introduced to this world of expressive freedom has enriched my personal work with landscapes and portraiture.

At the end of 2011, I returned to Battambang where I have been devoted full-time to producing my art work. I’m passionate about representing a contemporary Cambodia that is both influenced by the past, but honest to today’s social and political environment. I had my first solo exhibition with the Surviving series. Inspired by my experience as a young artist, through a simple gesture I tell the story of everyday life and personal aspirations.  In each composition a solitary figure stands or sits with their heads tilted back, and their body extended behind them. I paint a horizon just above their mouth suggesting that they are floating in water, barely able to breath, just “surviving.” In my second solo exhibition I showcased a series called Questioning in which I collapsed the traditional Buddhist iconography of the fasting Bodhisattva Siddhartha, juxtaposed with objects of contemporary desire.


My paintings are expressions of all the things that I see, feel and experience. I couple realistic images with symbols and iconographies which are able to illustrate the emotions, feelings, and narratives that I am not able to articulate with words. My work engages with the notions of what is seen and unseen in everyday life experiences. At its core my paintings are honest portrayals of my world and how I see, experience and learn from it.

Having learned so much from my small exposure to international art world in Phnom Penh, I am excited to embark on new opportunities that would allow me to broaden my visual vocabulary and introduce me to new horizons. I crave the opportunity to view artworks that I’ve long read about but have never appreciated in their original forms, in the various museums and galleries of major cosmopolitan cities worldwide.