A little reflection on one of my favourite places in the world, Phnom Penh, and its evolving and surprising art scene.
After not much more than a decade of peace and following 40 years of war, Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital city of two million, is recapturing some of its early 20th-century flair with a thriving and fertile art scene.
Bolstered by the last decade’s relative stability, native Cambodians, expats, and the ever-expanding community of supporting NGOs, each have a part to play in this artistic renaissance which has seen art, arts cafes and galleries spring up all over town.
The artistic community’s work has tended to draw heavily on the Khmer Rouge period, but subject matters are changing.
The Galleries to Visit…
At the helm of Cambodia’s evolving art scene is Dana Langlois’ two-storey, Java Café. Serving as both a cafe and gallery space, JavaArts is a cultural enterprise and works to sustain arts practice for artists, researchers, curators and other creative practitioners.
With a background in visual arts Dana Langlois has focused on contemporary Cambodian art for more than a decade. She curates solo shows of emerging artists and collaborates with other arts practitioners to produce exhibitions and projects.
Also at the forefront of raising the profile of Cambodia’s contemporary artists is the innovative gallery, Meta-House, a large art gallery, rooftop cinema and restaurant in the heart of the city.
Having opened in January 2007 by German filmmaker Nico Mesterharm in association with the International Academy at the Free University of Berlin, Meta-House has been actively supporting local artists and the development of contemporary art in Cambodia ever since.
In recent years the tireless efforts of Cambodian artists, both in Cambodia and abroad, have brought about a resurgence of both classical and contemporary Khmer art; playing a particularly important role in helping Cambodians reclaim their heritage, heal their souls and engage in the emerging renaissance.
FCC (with sites in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap) has been the meeting place for intrepid adventurers, locals and visitors, from around the world. FCC brings together spirited people where, in a yellow colonial building with roof top terraces, conversation, good food and drink have always been the order of the day.
During the Khmer Rouge, the FCC proved popular with foreign journalists and aid workers, who gathered around the bar for a cold beer and to swap tales. The FCC became the cornerstone of the capital’s river front district.
As well as being an open top restaurant and bar, serving some of the most stylish food on the Captial’s riverside, overlooking the Mekong River, the FCC is also an art space, exhibiting and selling local art pieces with funds going to a list of NGOs, including PSE (for a child’s smile).
Take a walk down Street 178, behind the National Museum, a road once lined with shops exclusively selling garish depictions of Angkor Wat, and you’ll find a number of new art galleries showcasing emerging local artists.
See The Rough Guide to Cambodia Here