It’s true that the Khmer Rouge practically destroyed most of the art and cultural manifestations in Cambodia, killed the kingdom’s artists and intellectuals, the educators, the visionaries. But hope and life always win, and the new generations are restoring the creative capacity of this country. Phnom Penh is now a city increasingly filled with art events and interesting exhibitions of young Khmer artists or expats that decided to settle down here for their creative practices. Stay tuned for some ideas to see Phnom Penh Art!
Detail of a sculpture by Sopheap Pich on an exhibition held by French Institute.
This country was flourishing with art in the sixties with the royal patronage of Norodom, a king that even directed movies and play the saxophone. The local architecture was being modernised by Vann Mollyvann, new and hip Khmer music was being popularized by singers such as Sinn Sisamouth, a kind of Cambodian Elvis, artists were crafting what could be called a new and modern Khmer style. Pol Pot’s regime turned all these advances into a halt, killing most of the population that could read and write, throwing into exile or converting into common farmers its most seminal artists, ripping apart the cultural elite and its activities for many years.
In the past decades the country has been slowly recovering, and we can say now that a new artistic generation has been forged. To explore some of the recent artists and their work, head to places such as Java Café in Sihanouk Boulevard, near the Independence Monument. Being an excellent coffee-shop on the ground floor, its first floor is a carefully curated gallery with a focus on new Cambodian artists. Nearby and also supporting local artists is Metahouse on Sothearos Boulevard, not only a gallery but as well a bar and rooftop cinema with free movie screenings every day, documentaries, talks and discussions. Also on Sothearos, the iconic White Building nurtures in its inside a lively art residency organized by Sa Sa Art Projects, inviting international artists for engaging with the community for their art practice and holding talks and exhibitions with the final results of each art residency. At walkable distance, near the famous hip area of Bassac Lane, is Nowhere space (street 312) with its exquisite design products and creative workshops (also hosting a talk by an artist from time to time) and Cloud bar and gallery, regularly having photography exhibitions and a weekly “drink and draw” session with a live model.
Art students visiting the exhibition Decomposition by artist Yim Maline in Sa Sa Bassac gallery.
Moving a bit north to the area of the Royal Palace, you will be able to find Sa Sa Bassac on Sothearos near the corner with street 178 (sometimes a bit hard to find, but look for a discreet door on the right of a diving shop). Besides a small but very interesting library filled with art books, this is a gallery focused on contemporary and conceptual regional artists, with the occasional talk or other events. Not far, on street 184, Plantation hotel and spa also hosts exhibitions in its lovely outdoor lobby. And following this road to the opposite side of the river and Royal Palace you will find the French Institute, home of interesting exhibitions, cinema, photography course and an extensive library overflowing with incredible art and photography books, in case you are looking for some inspiration. Nearby on the parallel street 200, Bophana center focus on audiovisual archive, exhibitions related with Cambodian history (e.g. the Khmer Rouge) and free movie screenings.
You can also find exhibitions on Asia Foundation on street 242, Inside Gallery in the Intercontinental Hotel on Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, and Chinese House on Sisowath Quay, a beautiful old villa recovered in a gorgeous way – probably the most beautiful building in whole Phnom Penh! Moreover you can discover more art events currently happen in the city on Kumnooh website, for instance L Bar on the Boeung Kak lakeside (street 93) hosts a monthly spoken word, Showbox bar on street 330 has an open mic session every Wednesday, and there’s a new creative space in town on a small lane off street 360 (near Tuol Sleng museum) with the premise of organizing events such as talks or workshops.
One of the many graffities on the Boeung kak lake area.
Hope this bring you some options of places to go to gather some inspiration and get to know the local art scene. Don’t miss as well plenty of street art around Phnom Penh, especially in the area of Boeung Kak lake. See you in the next exhibition inauguration!