Artist Illustrates Capital’s Blend of Modern, Traditional Life

In Frederikke Tu’s painting “Khmer Princess,” a girl in a fuchsia dress with a large white belt sits on a stool against a black background, peeling an onion with great care.

The painting, part of her series “Deconstruct+,” an exhibition that opens tonight, is a reflection of Phnom Penh, a city both traditional and developing at an accelerated pace. Girls still stay home and work, but they do it in style.

Frederikke Tu’s painting ‘Khmer Princess’

Phnom Penh faces “all the same challenges you have everywhere in the world, but has its own flavor,” Ms. Tu said. To really grasp this, the self-taught Danish artist said, “you have to go deeper…to venture into the little neighborhoods, into the small alleys, and you have to see how people really live and what contemporary life is like.”

Those places are where chickens are raised in small alleys, meals are still cooked on small open fires and dishes are washed by hand in basins of water, Ms. Tu said. “So it is [a] hybridization of traditional life in the context of a big city.”

To express this, Ms. Tu has used a layering technique, creating each work by applying several coats of acrylic paint or watercolors, at times incorporating copper foil or fabric she has seen people wearing in the city.

In one piece, “All Rigged Out at the White Building,” three middle-aged women in short, print dresses sit in a hammock on a balcony, watching life go by. In “Cruising Zen,” a man drives his motorbike while looking at his smartphone, one child sitting in front and another in back.

Born in 1975, Ms. Tu has lived in Cambodia for three years. She says she wants the new series to be about what she experiences when she walks around in Phnom Penh, when she meets Cambodians—in their own spaces.

What: “Deconstruct +” exhibition

Where: Insider Gallery, InterContinental Phnom Penh, #296 Mao Tse Toung Blvd.

When: Opens at 6 p.m. tonight, runs through April 5

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