April 26, 2023
PHNOM PENH – Ouk Dara Chan, a 62-year-old Cambodian artist whose life has been displaced for a second time by war, recently opened exhibitions of his collected works in two French cities.
His 32 paintings, predominantly featuring Khmer temples and Cambodian motifs, are being shown in Besancon and Lyon, with the profits of his sales going to the people of his adopted home, Ukraine.
“Emotional happiness is about doing something optimistic and successful; more or less the most important thing is to act in solidarity, helping each other regardless of thinking of personal gain. This is my first step and I will continue,” he said, via social media.
The exhibition was a significant moment for Dara Chan, who has lived and worked, and even married, in Ukraine for many years.
“I was a refugee from Lon Nol, and then the Khmer Rouge. Now, I am fleeing from the Russian invasion of Ukraine. I had an idea of how I could help, and am determined to support those who cannot escape,” he told The Post.
Dara Chan explained that he had been living in Ukraine since he was selected to study art at the then-Soviet Union in 1985. He is married and has two children.
He attended the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh in 1980, and in 1985, due to his excellent results, was selected to study in Ukraine. He was still there when the USSR dissolved in 1991 and Ukraine received its independence. When his children were born, he elected to stay in Ukraine until he was forced to flee by the recent war.
“I didn’t want them to grow up with no father, as I did,” he said. “My father sacrificed his life on the battlefield in the 1970s, when Khmer Rouge soldiers killed him when I was just nine years old.”
He has been painting regularly since the 1990s, focusing mostly on Cambodian art, with a little Ukrainian content.
He said that since he moved to Berezan, near Kyiv, he has exhibited his work each year, in a bid to let the people of the city learn about him and his homeland.
Although his work is well-known, he does not support himself and his family with his art. He has been a life-long practitioner of taekwondo, and runs the popular Dragon Club, which has more than 100 members.
He and his family fled the country for France when Russia invaded Ukraine more than a year ago.
Dara Chan explained that he had not had much time to paint since arriving in France, which is why it had taken more than a year to organise the exhibitions.
“In France, art materials are also more expensive than at home in Ukraine, with a brush costing up to 25 euros – much higher than in Cambodia,” he said.
“The French government provided homes to Ukrainian refugees. I was painting in the kitchen of the first place we stayed, but now we have a little more room,” he added.