A tour of the Siem Reap art scene

What we say: 3.5 stars

Unlike the capital city Phnom Penh, the art scene in Siem Reap has been a little slow to take off. But, for those with an interest there is much to be seen here, and since finding it also involves exploring different parts of the town too, well that just adds to the sense of adventure and discovery.

Fragments, by Blake, at the Hotel de la Paix.

At the heart of the arts scene in Siem Reap is the Arts Lounge at the Hotel de la Paix which hosts revolving two-month exhibitions with an emphasis on Cambodian artists and international artists with a strong connection to Cambodia. The quality here is very high and tends toward the contemporary, with past exhibitions including work by internationally-renowned Cambodian artist, Sopheap Pich, or by international visitors such as Blake, whose work highlighting the continuing menace of landmines in Cambodia, Fragments, has toured the globe.

The curator is Sasha Constable, a British artist who has been living here since 2000, and her own work can sometimes be seen here or at other galleries in town, such as The Alliance Café, or at the McDermott Gallery at the FCC. According to Constable, Siem Reap has plenty of potential for a vibrant art scene, though we “need an entrepreneur to not only recognise this but also follow up the challenge with adequate finances to design and implement a new cultural centre”.

Notwithstanding that, she highlights a number of venues that will interest art lovers, including Theam’s House, 1961, the Art Deli, the McDermott Galleries, and the Angkor Photo Festival Gallery.

Constable is also responsible for the creation of the Thev Gallery at the Hotel de la Paix, which will become a permanent showcase for the work of Bangkok-based Australian artist Robert Powell, whose minutely detailed drawings of Angkor are highly acclaimed. From July 5, there will be an exhibition in support of the landmine clearance NGO The Halo Trust of works by British artist Nic Grey and local artist Chath Piersath.

We live inside a dream, by Nic Grey.

A recent addition to the scene is Theam’s House. This little oasis can be a little difficult to find, but is without question a huge step-up for Siem Reap and worth the effort. Theam is a restlessly creative individual, which can be seen in every aspect of his self-designed studio/home. His media include lacquers, painting, and sculpture, with pieces that are uniquely expressive of Theam while also maintaining a strong Khmer ethic.

A combination of special light, colour and the extraordinary atmosphere of Angkor has ensured a constant stream of photographers to Siem Reap. One of the ones who stayed is John McDermott, a soft-spoken American whose images exquisitely capture the ethereal nature of the immense stone structures of Angkor, and have now achieved iconic status. He has two galleries, one at the FCC Complex, and one on The Passage beside Pub Street.

Not far from the McDermott Gallery on The Passage, the Art Deli on Alley West is a home for the work of young, developing local artists and a range of madcap art by the owner Loven Ramos. This place is also a bar, performance art centre, reading room, café and creative engine-room for anyone who seems to come near it. Ramos is also the owner of the highly esoteric riverside hotel/gallery The 1961.

Dy Proeung's Urn.

Sasha Constable believes that the scene in Siem Reap can only keep getting better, and draws attention to a number of artists who are now choosing to move to Siem Reap, including Svay Sareth and his wife Maline, and young artist Leang Seckon, whose work has been shown in Tokyo and London. They are joining the likes of Dy Proeung, a Cambodian master artist, whose reproductions of Angkor can be found at his museum, on the east side of the river two roads north of Route 6, behind Rosy Guesthouse (look for the signs on the road).

Hotel de la Paix
Sivutha Boulevard
T: (063) 966 000

Alliance Café
7 Makara Street
T: (017) 809 010

McDermott Galleries
The Passage (Pub Street area)
& The FCC Complex (Pokambor Avenue)
T: (012) 615 695

Theam’s House
No. 25, Phum Veal, Khum Kokchak
T: (012) 70 21 39

The Art Deli
Alley West

The River Road, Upper West Side
T: (015) 378 088

Last updated: 31st January, 2015

About the author:
Nicky Sullivan is an Irish freelance writer (and aspiring photographer). She has lived in England, Ireland, France, Spain and India, but decided that her tribe and heart are in Cambodia, where she has lived since 2007 despite repeated attempts to leave. She dreams of being as tough as Dervla Murphy, but fears there may be a long way to go. She can’t stand whisky for starters. She was a researcher, writer and coordinator for The Angkor Guidebook: Your Essential Companion to the Temples, now one of the best-selling guidebooks to the temples.
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