Tracking Down Deaf Artists in Battambang

Veasna Ot, a deaf artist in Battambang, poses for a photograph. Photo by Erin Moriarty Harrelson

BATTAMBANG, Cambodia – Standing by the counter on the ground floor of Romcheik 5 New Art Space, a gallery and compound where four young artists live and work, I felt the same way I did when I was in the fifth grade when I finally caught Carmen Sandiego. Squinting with effort, I tried to lipread Jacques Guichandt, the managing director of Romcheik 5, as he spoke to deaf artist Ot Veasna’s mother on the telephone.

Guichandt hung up the telephone and told me that I should go to the Lotus Gallery Bar, where Veasna would meet me. Guichandt explained that the Lotus was closed but going there was the best way to meet with Veasna. It was easier for his mother to communicate to him that he was to go there using their home sign. After hearing that, I wondered what must be going through Veasna’s mind and if he understood that he was meeting me, not his agent, Darren Swallow, who runs the Lotus Gallery Bar.

I directed my tuk-tuk driver to the Lotus and hung out on a bench in the shade, waiting for the mysterious deaf artist I had been hoping to meet for some time. After about 15 minutes, Veasna roared by on his motorcycle with his new, young wife on the back.

Veasna Ot, a deaf artist in Battambang, poses for a photograph. Photo by Erin Moriarty Harrelson

I first learned about Veasna when I visited a new acquaintance, Tin Lee, one of Cambodia’s leading contemporary artists at the Sammaki Gallery. Tin Lee and I met by happenstance when I was sitting outside of Bric-a-Brac in the old colonial quarter of Battambang, enjoying a snack with Morrison Polkinghorne, textile designer and Robert Carmack, author of five cookbooks, including the recent Gourmand World Cookbook Award winner, Flavors of Burma: —> Read More

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