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French artist sketches local life with a stroke of whimsy

French artist Virginie Broquet, with her sketchbook, outside the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh
French artist Virginie Broquet, with her sketchbook, outside the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh. Charlotte Pert

French artist sketches local life with a stroke of whimsy

Evocative sketches of Cambodian street life, by a French graphic artist and her Phnom Penh students will go on display tonight at the Institut Francais.

Sixteen students from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) spent a week developing their drawing skills with 46-year-old Virginie Broquet for the exhibition, Carnets de voyage/Suzy Wong.

The artist, who specialises in whimsical line drawings of city scenes, took the students on an artistic tour of the capital and taught them to sketch with a pen.

“It’s a very important experience for both the students and me because they’ve never drawn like that in the street, whereas I always travel with a sketchbook and pen and draw life,” she said.

The artist added that she has also learned from the students. “It allows me to learn different ways of doing things from others, before focusing on myself, and gives me time to reflect,” she said.

Meas Panha, 21, a third-year drawing student at RUFA, said he discovered new techniques with Broquet.

“Lots of teachers at the university are Khmer or from Japan, and the technique of drawing with a pen is different,” he said, adding that until now, he knew only how to sketch with pencil.

Alongside the student work are Broquet’s illustrations from her own carnets de voyage (travel sketchbook) inspired by travels around the world, including Angkor Wat, as well as her graphic novel Suzy Wong et les esprits (Suzy Wong and the spirits).

The drawings tell the imagined story of fictional Chinese prostitute Suzy Wong’s daughter living in modern day Hong Kong and was inspired by Broquet’s travels around China.

The Wong character was created by Richard Mason in his 1957 novel The World of Suzy Wong. Since then she has also been depicted in unofficial sequels, a play, a film and a ballet.

The images follow Wong’s granddaughter as she practices feng shui in hotels all over the world, the whole time protected by three Chinese spirits.

“She travels with them, and during these travels she meets all her uncles and aunties and gathers her family in Hong Kong for the 80th birthday of her grandmother, the real Suzy Wong,” said Broquet.

While this is Broquet’s first visit to Cambodia, the artist, who was born in Nice, travelled to Vietnam 20 years ago with her Vietnamese mother-in-law who fled to France during the Vietnam war.

Carnets de Voyage/Suzy Wong opens this evening at 6:30pm at the Institut Francais, #218 Street 184. It will go on until August.

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