“An artist’s calling: rebuilding lives, reviving arts!”
In his painting and teaching, visual artist Theam Lim embodies forgiveness, reconciliation, integration, and community in his much-admired effort to restore Cambodian culture in both traditional and innovative ways.
Born in Southern Cambodia, Theam was nine when the Khmer Rouge regime fell in 1978. He was among the comrade school where the regime taught and trained him like thousands others children to new ideology. Too young to have been directly involved in the brutalities of Khmer Rouge times, Theam knows of these terrors only through collective memory, retelling, and the social devastation of the present.
Amidst the widespread famine and the trauma caused by the genocide, hundreds of thousands of Cambodians fled the country. Theam’s family was among the refugees who arrived in France in 1980. After receiving a sound artistic and technical education in the Fine Art School and in design at the Ecole Boulle, both in Paris, Theam returned to his native country to take part in the rebuilding of a country ravaged by decades of war.
Theam’s desire to share his artistic and technical knowledge prompted him to set out on a mission to learn about Khmer art and culture. He has investigated temples and pagodas across the country, visited people’s homes, and studied previously hidden art and artifacts in order to research the country’s rich artistic heritage.
“a new creative journey…”
Theam is one of the few returnee Cambodians currently involved in helping revive the craft sector, and has been enthusiastically doing so since 1997 by teaching teams of apprentices from the countryside how to use traditional Khmer craftsmanship to create art out of time-honored materials like wood, lacquer, silk, and cotton. Skilled art trainees work here under Theam’s personal tutelage whose main objective is the teaching as well as advocating the value of authenticity and quality, featuring strong cultural and artistic Khmer identity with distinctly modern creative edge.
He has created a new aesthetic, drawing and paintings on both Khmer tradition and contemporary international designs hoping to breathe new life into Cambodian handicrafts. For more than 12 years Theam was the technical assistant and artistic director of Artisans d’Angkor, he then has launched a new creative project – Theam’s Gallery – that includes training a team of protégé artisan apprentices while he embarks on a new creative journey of his own painting.