A guide to Battambang’s art galleries
Battambang’s Art Scene
Ask a Khmer what’s artistic about Cambodia’s second largest city, and he’ll likely talk about its distinctive wooden art carvings. Query further, and he will remark on the city’s Khmer culture. As an afterthought, Cambodians will mention the city’s colonial architecture – up for Unesco Heritage status. Last but not least, locals will talk about its artists. This is not oversight, rather, it’s already assumed everyone knows. Battambang and art are intrinsically linked, and the city boasts more artists per capita than any other Cambodian locale.
Proof is in the pudding. While Battambang is historically known for singers, musicians and writers, there’s a cultural renaissance happening here in paintings, photography and even multi media.
It’s no surprise that what you don’t see hanging here is already installed in the galleries of Phnom Penh, Bangkok, Singapore, or just as likely New York, Paris and London. The standard of artwork is exceptionally high, and better yet, prices are very affordable. A day spent touring the city’s cafes, restaurants and galleries makes for a noteworthy break for the “templed out” tourist.
PHARE PONLEU SELPAK
Much credit can be given to “Phare”, home to Battambang’s famed circus and its art school. Here, under the tutelage of Srey Bandol, they’ve created a space to allow some 1000 students to nurture creativity. When you go for a thrice-weekly evening circus performance, be sure to arrive early to view — and buy from — its gallery of student arts. Proceeds go to maintaining this worthy cause, and to supporting Cambodia’s next generation of artists. Take a tuktuk, as its located out of town, off Highway 5. www.phareps.org
SANGKER ART SPACE + GALLERY
Since 2014 Battambang’s premier gallery has established itself as a social and artistic hub, nurturing and promoting celebrated and acclaimed artists, while providing support and space for new artists to showcase their work. Go upstairs to view the full collection – and there is a walkway link to neighboring The Kitchen restaurant and bar which also showcases American and Khmer artists.
A new generation of Cambodian artists has emerged in the wake of the volatile political history that irreversibly altered the social and cultural landscape of Cambodia. This new generation of artists have enthusiastically embraced a genre of contemporary art unique to Cambodia, playing a significant role in challenging conventions, pushing boundaries, tackling the traumatic legacies of the past and re-defining national identity. In a country that has experienced such a turbulent history, trapped in the stranglehold of poverty and corruption for many years, this vibrant and exciting new scene of contemporary art promises to further enrich the vibrant culture of Battambang.
# Street 2
Textile and decorative arts feature at Bric-à-Brac (112, St 2, corner of 119 St. www.bric-a-brac.asia). Tassel maker Morrison Polkinghorne brings his skills as a passementier to Battambang, adding a new dimension to the city’s scene. You’ll find intricate weavings from across Southeast Asia, antique and modern textiles, and curated gifts, plus hand-made gift cards. It’s located in the same building as Battambang’s smallest hotel — a 3-room deluxe colonial property with high ceiling chambers festooned with antique textiles and curios. It’s no wonder Bric-à-Brac is referred to it as an “art stay”. Don’t miss its nightly Libations Bar, with alfresco seating to view the city’s’ life pass by. www.Bric-a-Brac.asia
Lotus art by Morrison Polkinghorne
Starting with a blank piece of paper, a fresh cut lotus and ink, Morrison’s artwork commences with but one impression from a cut lotus stem, then continues into thousands.
Morrison makes the ink from lotus petals. www.morrisonpolkinghorne.com
Joseba Etxebarria Photography brings together some of the best portraits of the humanitarian photographer Joseba Etxebarria taken during his trip around the world, as well as several postcards, pictures and books that are not for sale online.
(St 117) features fine chocolate pastries, while also exhibiting local artist Prak Ke’s latest pieces, as well as periodic dance and music raves. It is especially popular with French expats and Phare graduates. https://prakke54.wordpress.com
LOTUS BAR AND GALLERY
The city’s busiest expat venue on two floors, is set to re-open as a gallery and performance space, doubling in size to incorporate its former bar and restaurant on ground level, plus Jewel in the Lotus. The latter sells funky, unique art, clothes, jewellery and souvenirs that you will not be able to find anywhere else.
Stray a bit off the beaten track to see how widely the city’s creative market thrives. Across the Sangker river, Romcheik 5 on St 201A (slightly behind Bambu Hotel) exhibits an exemplary range of paintings and sculpture on three floors. Here, four young artists established a joint workshop and studios with the help of a French donor, plus a permanent collection of their best artworks. Take a map, as it may be confusing to find, but well worth visiting.
$2 admission fee
TEP KAO SOL
New kid on the block is Tep Kao Sol on St. 2, just two blocks south of Psar Nat market, next door to a well-known Chinese noodle shop, and near the iconic White Rose restaurant. Principally the work of one local artist, Loeum Lorn, it exhibits his painted visions of Battambang architecture and daily life, while also photographing artistic pieces such as his melting ice series. Good selection of gift cards. https://www.facebook.com/TEP-KAO-SOL-1937761039783326/
Serving the best espresso in town, has an upstairs gallery cum coffee lounge, with regularly changing displays.
To check out the local art is Au Cabaret Vert resort, which regularly exhibits local artists; the giant mural just outside Jaan Bai restaurant (St 2), painted by five local artists, plus regularly changing art inside as well; and on St 1 somewhat near the Governor’s Mansion (Sala Khaet); and the Naga statue forged from guns and armaments handed in at the end of Cambodia’s prolonged strife. The latter was unveiled in 2007.