The capital’s contemporary art scene is on a roll — and it’s a far cry from apsaras and sunrise over Angkor Wat
As the city’s cultural venues burst into post-pandemic life, a spate of new gallery openings and a burgeoning number of innovative multi-arts spaces are inspiring, promoting, and supporting creativity in Phnom Penh like never before.
In a city that still, disappointingly, lacks any national or state art galleries, it’s left to independent galleries and private institutions to grandstand a growing array of talent. The most exclusive newcomer to the fold — a sign of the increasingly sophisticated nature of the Phnom Penh arts scene — is The Gallerist on Street 240. It’s owned by the French artist known as Stan, a relative newcomer to the art scene, who is making a mark with his large, heavily-textured abstracts. Whether you’re buying or just browsing, it’s a classy space to view pieces by some of the most collectible local and foreign artists at work in the country.
At Ikigai Arts Space, also on Street 240 and officially launched earlier this year by the people behind neighboring Enso Cafe and Healing Space, art is very much about engagement. Boasting three floors of gallery and art space fronted by a funky little shop, and with further facilities down the road, it hosts an ongoing program of immersive, interactive multi-disciplinary art projects plus performances, workshops, and talks — something for everyone with an interest in creative expression.
Earlier this year Chhan Dina, one of Cambodia’s most acclaimed contemporary artists, opened her own bijou gallery to showcase her own work and that of her peers. Her paintings, frequently influenced by the country’s flora and fauna, are a richly-colored merger of abstract and figurative. Chhan Dina Gallery is well-located on Street 13 around the corner from the National Museum and across the road from Friends Futures Factory (check their website too for occasional exhibitions).
Art lovers with a taste for wine (or vice versa) should head to Sra’Art on Sothearos Boulevard near Street 178. This commercial gallery and events space opened its doors shortly before the pandemic struck and has thankfully survived the enforced closures to continue its regular Art and Wine Pairings along with exhibitions, artist talks, classes, and the new Thursday Club artist/music collaborations. In its new home on Street 228, Metahouse is making the most of its more expansive gallery space with a diverse exhibition program that takes in local and expat artists. Watch out for Tuesday evening launch events that sometimes combine talks by the artists.
Over in BKK1 (Street 282 as its name suggests), Pi-Pet-Pi Gallery opened in 2020 to introduce Phnom Penh art lovers to the work of provincial Khmer artists, most notably from Battambang — a hotbed of creative talent nurtured at the Phare Ponleu Selpak art school — and Kampot. This small yet vibrant gallery is a must-visit to observe the creative and often highly individualistic visions of the next generation of young Khmer painters and sculptors — and even invest in a reasonably-priced piece of original art.
Artists Lolli Park and Syahrulfikri Salleh, a.k.a Ajin, set up Nowhere Art Studio in 2015, a quirky, collaborative art space on Norodom Boulevard that holds regular classes, workshops, and exhibitions. SaSa Arts, another artist-run venture, has a long track record of successfully promoting experimental art projects in the capital. Originally operating from the iconic and sadly defunct White Building, the not-for-profit organization is now based on Street 350 in BKK3.
Art and music collide nearby in the groovy emporium that is Gallery Space Four Zero a.k.a. Wang Dang Doodle on Palace Lane (formerly known as Street 240 1/2). Browse and buy original artworks, posters, vintage vinyl, t-shirts, and other cool collectibles and gifts.
Check opening times before you visit; days and hours can vary according to exhibition schedules and some spaces, particularly during COVID-19, may open by appointment only.
Six of the best
Khmer artists who have put Cambodia on the international art map include:
Chhim Sothy, Cambodia’s best-known contemporary artist, is skilled in a diverse range of styles and techniques but probably best recognized for his bold abstract impressionist pieces.
Battambang-born Cambodian-American artist, Sopheap Pich, works primarily in natural, local materials and is acclaimed for his large-scale bamboo and rattan sculptures.
Prolific folk artist Svey Ken taught himself to paint on turning sixty and continued to document everyday Cambodian life in his quietly powerful ‘naive’ style until his death in 2008.
Em Riem is a painter, sculptor, and fashion and interior designer with an often flamboyant personal style and his own X-Em gallery and workshop in Phnom Penh.
Expat artists to know include British-born outsider artist Nick C Grey, whose immensely detailed, surrealist drawings are both intriguing and unsettling and frequently take the form of graphic novels. French-Guatemalan artist Erick Gonzalez’s portfolio spans installations, digital artworks, photography and painting – look out for occasional open events at his atelier on Street 282.
Kumnooh is your weekly guide to all things art in Phnom Penh, including an up-to-date list of exhibitions and events.