He was born on a small sandy island about 20 miles from Phnom Penh. Orphaned at an early age, he was raised by various foster families but it was monks who were responsible for much of his nurturing. He spent much of his childhood living in Buddhist temples.
The social and political turmoil in Cambodia led him to leave in the 1980s and he settled in the United States. His interest in the arts continued from his time at admiring artwork in his native temples. His art began very early in his life, at the age of 2 or 3, when my hands started to coordinate with my eyes." He had difficulty knowing "whether art is part of his life or his life part of his art."
Since the 1980s Chanthou Oeur has participated in a number of exhibitions. receiving much acclaim at the global Cambodian Art Festival held in Long Beach, California where he won his first award for his work. He participated in the Smithsonian's Natural History exhibit Across the Seas and Over the Mountains, and took part in a Khmer Arts exhibition at Chicago's Field Museum of Natural History.
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