Khvay Samnang’s hirsute sculptures made from left over hair sourced from roadside barbers in Phnom Penh, stems from his fascination with Cambodian women’s beauty rituals like hair removal, skin polishing and makeup application.
“It seems they do not like their natural beauty or their shape. Some other women use makeup, applying powder and drawing around their eyes. They even have surgery to adjust their eyelids so they get bigger eyes. They are like birds, with multi-colored hair and big round eyes. Some of them have their ears pierced with many holes and have their noses pierced. Perhaps they like and love cattle, or they might want to be powerful and strong like those animals. Some others use chemical substances to change their hair color to blonde, so it is the color of corn,” Samnang says.
Samnang’s take on women’s beauty rituals look somewhat shamanistic. His works take the form of animal and vegetable, their features trapped behind layers and mattes of collected hair.
Women’s attachment to beauty and betterment is one that can be traced through history, fashions and ideals through Angkorian times to the present and these days Cambodian girls are having a new revolution of beauty influenced by Western ideals and fashions.
Khvay Samnang is a founding member of the art collective Stiev Selapak who work out of SaSa artist-run space in Phnom Penh. He began exhibiting regularly throughout Phnom Penh while studying painting at the Royal University of Fine Arts (2003-2006). Since graduating he has been included in major exhibitions in Cambodia since, including Anon (Sala Artspace),14+1 (French Cultural Centre), Spirit House (Khmer Arts Academy) in 2007, Art of Survival (MetaHouse), Photo Phnom Penh (Bophana Centre) in 2008, and Photo Phnom Penh (outdoor installation) 2009.