In the last decade Battambang has experienced something of an artist revival, in no small part thanks to Phare Ponleu Selpak, an non-profit organization there that provides hundreds of students with arts training and education. Explore the town’s art scene with our updated guide to Battambang’s art galleries for 2019.
In its latest incarnation Lotus Gallery exclusively shows the work of Khchao Touch, a Cambodian artist and the gallery’s co-owner. She and her partner, Darren Swallow, have made Lotus into a local community hub of sorts. “Those that are meant to find us, do,” says Darren, referring to the fact that there’s not a lot of signage outside. Look for the bicycle covered in plants that is rolled out when they are open. Darren, who also mans the downstairs coffee bar, knows everything about the art scene in Battambang and will happily tell visitors about Touch’s art-making or anything else they want to know about what’s going on in town.
Upstairs is the gallery showing Touch’s work. Touch was born in Battambang and attended the Phare Ponleu Selpek art school before becoming a teacher there, working with local students. She works in various media, including sculpture, but most of the works on display are vaguely psychedelic oil paintings that bring to mind 1960s sci-fi, featuring biomorphic forms in vivid undersea colors and flowers meticulously etched with toothpicks to give them a textured look. Her work grows more intricate and interesting by the year.
Also downstairs at the Lotus Gallery is Jewel in the Lotus, a small shop selling “strange and beautiful things from around the world.” There you can find a collection of local and international comics as well as prints of some of Khchao Touch’s works displayed upstairs.
Romcheik5 is an ambitious project attempting to create Cambodia’s first contemporary art museum, a task monumental enough in Phnom Penh but even more so on a winding street outside of central Battambang City. What differentiates a museum from a gallery is that a museum maintains a permanent collection, presumably of the best work of its kind, and doesn’t offer the art for sale, while a gallery is, above all else, an art retailer. Romcheik5 has combined the two.
The project’s permanent collection features the work of four of Cambodia’s leading visual artists, Hour Seyha, Bor Hak, Nget Chanpenh, and Mil Chankrim. The four young graduates of the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school in Battambang also happen to be the people who put together Romcheik5. The work of each is very different from the others. Hour Seyha’s paintings are reminiscent of folk and outsider art, with a mix of religious and folkloric imagery, while Bor Hak’s paintings feature cartoonishly faceless figures and men bulging with muscles that hint at narratives of heroic myth. He also has a series of eerie wooden sculptures. Mil Chankrim presents watercolors inspired by Egon Schiele that are simultaneously graceful and grotesque. Nget Chanpenh’s family series of oil paintings are filled with accusing stares, the opposite of familiar “happy Cambodian” tourist art. For those who want to take some of the art home, there’s a gallery downstairs with work that is for sale.
Also upstairs is a cafe with an outstanding view of rural Battambang. In the future, they hope to become a social hub for artists and those who appreciate them, but at the moment it is just a refrigerator full of cold drinks. A bit controversially, by Battambang standards, anyway, Romcheik5 has a $5 admission fee, which goes toward covering the artists-in-residence’s expenses.
Tep Kao Sol Gallery and Loeum Lorn Gallery
If two galleries could perfectly illustrate the contradictory nature of the Battambang art scene, they are Tep Kao Sol and Loeum Lorn Gallery, which are housed on different floors of the same building and both showcase the work of Loeum Lorn.
The Tep Kao Sol gallery is a collection of watercolors expressly created to appeal to tourists—smiling Cambodian children, monks in saffron robes streaming past yellow French colonial buildings, Apsara dancers with mysterious expressions. The originals are quite reasonably priced, but he also has a collection of inexpensive reproductions for less than $20 each, and one suspects that he does a brisk trade in these.
Upstairs, Loeum Lorn showcases his less accessible and significantly more expensive work. Using large-format photography and inspired by his practice of Vipassana meditation, Loeum Lom creates these by dropping color onto ice to create mysterious abstract images, some brightly colored, others dark and jagged. The photographs, evoking both infinity and impermanence, are much philosophical as they are visual.
Photographer Joseba Etxebarria has traveled through more than 20 countries, by bicycle, taking photos of local people along the way. His Battambang gallery displays his highly skilled work, mostly very polished portraits of extremely poor people. It fits neatly into the Cambodian charity-tourism ecosystem. Indeed, the gallery, which is very popular and seems to do a brisk trade, says it donates 20 percent of all sales proceeds to a school in a village outside of Battambang.
Sangker Gallery is a community arts space that shows a variety of work from local artists and students from the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school. The gallery is owned by a French- Cambodian man based in Paris, and his absence is felt. We’ve tried to visit three times over three years during hours the space was supposed to be open and were rebuffed each time. Most recently, in the middle of the day on a Saturday we were greeted by a “closed” sign, while we could see an artist diligently at work inside. Peeking inside, we saw work that was very much of student caliber. We’ll try again next year. If you’re keen on visiting, we strongly recommend making an appointment in advance, as their hours are extremely irregular.
A few more…
These six not enough for you? Restaurants Jaan Bai and Choco l’Art also display and sell art from local artists, as well as coffeeshop Kinyei.
The Bric-à-Brac boutique shop has such an outstanding collection of crafts and curiosities, that it’s practically a gallery. One of the owners, Morrison Polkinghorne, is an artist who makes “lotus art,” stunning large-format prints using lotus stems as stamps with ink made from lotus petals. His work is often on tour, but can sometimes be seen at Bric-à-Brac, which also offers extremely artistic and eclectic accommodation.
If you’re looking for other places to visit, check out our guide of things to do in Battambang.
Open Monday through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Closed Sundays
53 Street 2.5, Battambang
T: +855 (0)92 260 158
Tep Kao Sol Gallery and Loeum Lorn Gallery
Open daily, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Street 2, Battambang
T: +855 (0)17 255 829
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Sundays 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. (allegedly)
194 Street 2, Battambang
T: +855 (0)15 454 717
Street 1.5, Battambang
Open Monday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.; closed weekends
T: +855 (0)96 730 0590
Street 2, Battambang
T: +855 (0)53 650 0024
Open daily, 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m.
Street 117, Battambang [map]
T: +855 (0)10 661 61