Cambodia has a long history of dance and theatre. Performances of ‘the Reamker’ date back to the 13th century. The Reamker is a Khmer version of the classic Indian Ramayan. It is an epic poem, exploring themes of good and evil, through encounters with monkeys, giants, princes and mermaids.
Mask making and the theatre are intrinsically linked in Cambodia. The masks transform the performers into their characters. In the past it was common for artists to make their masks and perform. The finished theatre masks are sacred and are treated with respect.
Mask making requires technical skill and patience. Most contemporary mask makers have studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. Finished theatre masks are considered as works of art.
En Sokha is a Phnom Penh based mask maker. He’s part of Sovanna Phum art association, a network of 120 artists. En Sokha works predominantly with the theatre, making traditional masks such as monkeys and giants. He tells me that he doesn’t come from a family of mask makers. En Sokha was a creative child and went on to study fine art at university, he finds his work very satisfying. En Sokha uses clay moulds to make his papier mache masks. It takes between 5-7 days to complete a mask.
The best place to see these impressive masks, is at the theatre. Sovanna Phum host performances every Friday and Saturday. There’s a performance fusing modern and traditional drumming on 9th and 10th of March. Entrance is $5 for foreigners, and $3 for Cambodians.