Cambodian Spirit - An Ardent Sculptor
By: Arnie Baker..Photos by: Chan Thul ( December, 2002 Volume 2 No.12 )

Prach Bunnaruoh is a sculptor who has spent half his life transforming plain blocks of stone and wood into intricate carvings, and is rightfully proud of his profession. Bunnaruoh, now 26, spent ten years learning how to carve in stone and wood. It's a painstaking craft: "I need at least one week to work on one wooden sculpture," he explained. Bunnaruoh makes carvings to order, commissioned by both foreign and local customers at his shop on Street 178 in Phnom Penh.

There are many different kinds of sculpture being made in Cambodia today. Walking down Phnom Penh's Street 178 past the art shops there, a wide array of carvings in wood, stone and marble are on display. There are three kinds of marble available: green marble, wax marble and regular marble. These beautiful materials don't come cheap. One kilogram of the normal kind of marble costs between $2 and $3. The green marble costs about $15 per kilogram and it is this luminous stone that is most in demand.

Bunnaruoh supports his wife and young son and pays rent on his shop by selling sculpture; just one of his delicate wooden carvings can cost up to $100. He has been working as a sculptor for four years now, and says he finds it an honorable and interesting job.

Cambodia has a long and celebrated tradition of sculpture, especially those found in the country's numerous ruined temples, and of course, at the world-famous Angkor complex in Siem Reap.

Now it seems sculpture is coming back into fashion. Just look at the Royal University of Fine Arts - talented young art students are queuing up to enroll in the sculpture classes there. Bunnaruoh also teaches sculpture to four young students, whom he describes as hardworking and eager to learn the many skills of the trade. He does not charge them any money for the lessons, even though they can be pretty hard work. He says he just wants to make sure that the skills he has learned are passed on to other Cambodians, so that people around the world can continue to recognize Khmer sculpture as the uniquely beautiful art form it is. His is indeed a fine example of the true Cambodian Spirit.