Artisan Lam Phen helps to preserve Khmer traditional arts

(VOVworld) – The Khmer Ethnic Culture Museum in Tra Vinh province honors the culture of more than 1.5 million Khmer people in southern Vietnam. More than 100 of the 600 objects on display are closely associated with their daily life such as farming and fishing tools, musical instruments, and costumes, collected or restored by artisan Lam Phen. Le Hoa reports:

Artisan Lam Phen helps to preserve Khmer traditional arts - ảnh 1

Lam Phen lives in Ba Se A hamlet, Chau Thanh district. He has a small carpentry workshop where he makes facemasks and clothing used for popular dancing and traditional stage arts of the Khmer. Phen and his cousin work day and night to fill the orders of a great number of pagodas and art troupes. Their products include stringed instruments, drums, and facemasks, which are indispensable in traditional Khmer dances. Phen began to produce Khmer cultural items and musical instruments in the 1990s. He said: “My father gave me the passion for Khmer traditional arts when I was little. During the time I was in Cambodia as a volunteer soldier, from time to time I visited an artisan’s house near the place we were stationed and learned his techniques for making Khmer cultural items.”

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You need to have a good perception of sound to produce musical instruments, and broad knowledge of the plots and characters of ancient Khmer stories in order to produce props for traditional stage arts. Phen said he read and studied a lot to understand the different forms of Khmer traditional arts and learned how to play Khmer instruments with the help of artists and musicians of the Anh Binh Minh troupe.

Phen said the process of making Khmer facemasks is quite similar to that of the Kinh or Chinese ethnic group. He taught the trade to his two sons and one of his cousins, which now provides them stable incomes. Thanks to the greater attention the Vietnamese Party and state have paid to the cultural life and traditions of the Khmer in recent years, more art performances have been held in pagodas, giving Phen more orders: “This has been my bread and butter and my passion. There have been more competitions in folk dances so troupes invest more in props and clothing and they come to me.”

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People in Ba Se A hamlet call him a culture expert. They come to him on any occasion with confidence that he will do a good job. Le Dac Thang, a local official, said: “Phen is an enthusiastic man. He decorates all the festivals of the ethnic people, who comprise 90% of the local population. He gets along very well with others.”

The traditional instruments Phen produces have become widely known throughout the Mekong River Delta. Phen plans to open a class at Lo Gach pagoda to teach children how to restore the different musical instruments of the Khmer as a way to preserve their culture.