Two towns, three weeks, 17 exhibitions, 23 events, 27 villages, over 50 artists and 175 kilometres (phew!) It all adds up to one ambitious undertaking. But that’s just what the team behind Angkor Art Explo hopes to achieve, in what is dubbed as a three week party that everyone’s invited to attend.
The inaugural contemporary art festival is the brainchild of artists and co-founders Loven Ramos and David Jam Ramjattan, and it will take place in Battambang, Siem Reap and 27 other locations from October 29 to November 19.
According to the festival’s manager, Tiani Chillemi, the theme of it all is Art Is A Journey, and the festival aims to build a bridge between the art scenes in Battambang and Siem Reap.
“There are galleries at one end in Siem Reap, and galleries at the other end in Battambang, but nothing in between,” she said. “So the idea was to transform bikes into art-cycles and take artworks to all the pagodas and villages along the way. And then it sort of mushroomed into having parties at either end.”
Another aim of the festival theme is bringing Cambodian art to the world stage. “The root of Cambodia’s creativity is in Battambang, and we will take that creativity to other people on a bike ride and then expose it to the world through Siem Reap’s very international population,” Tiani said.
She also hopes the festival will harvest Khmer talent through links with artists from abroad.
“It was about getting Cambodian artists involved, and then finding complementary international artists to fit in with their works. We exhibit their work in these really great locations, and then we take it on the road to all these villages. Then in Siem Reap the international artists will hold workshops with the local artists, so they’re learning too.”
Of the 25 international artists exhibiting at the festival, about 20 are expected to be present in person.
Tiani said that Khmer-American artist Kat Eng is one to look out for.
“Her work is really exciting. She’s definitely worth checking out. Because of her background she’s a lot more contemporary in her approach. Another great artist is Chov Theanly; he has really realistic portraits, and his painting skill is really high. Mr Hubs is also really interesting. He’s a lawyer from the Philippines who’s just decided to start making art. This is his first exhibition so I think it’s the start of something great.”
Another stand-out exhibition on the Siem Reap program is Voices of Burma, a collection of paintings by Myanmar artists which will be on display at the McDermott Gallery. “A lot of them can’t exhibit their work in Burma,” explained Tiani. “It’s a quality exhibition and it’s exciting. There are not many chances to see Burmese art, because it’s really difficult to get it out of the country and there’s not a lot of it.”
While Battambang is known for its art programs and circus, organisers hope the festival will bring Siem Reap’s more pocketed art scene together in one occasion.
“Cambodia has spent a lot of time preserving the masters and the traditional art which is really important," she said. "But now it’s time to evolve past that and start to embody the next generation of artists.”
With such a massive program, Tiani advised the best way of taking it all in is at the Siem Reap Art Walk on November 13.
“We’ll walk through the Old Market area and visit seven galleries along the way. Each one will have different exhibitions and activities happening, so in an hour you could take in maybe 50 works – all within walking distance. It’s a great way to see it all.”
Another Temple Town occurrence Tiani suggests checking out is the Art Fair, which she dubs as a “carnival in the park” with items available for purchase, performances, food, and a chance to see the festival bicycles. That takes place riverside in the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor gardens on November 12.
Those hoping to get off the beaten festival track can take the Art Excursion, a bike ride to famed Khmer artist Theam’s studio on November 19.
For those looking for something a little interactive, Studio Revolt, a team of artists, is organising a three-part show which will involve a series of photographs of volunteers jumping in the air. These photos will be shown in a local pagoda and the reactions of visitors will be documented for further display.
Fans of local periodical The Siem Reader can dabble in some wordsmithery with their instillation at the Blankspace opening party on November 17.
Those seeking a more hands-on role can volunteer at the festival and participate in activities, such as installing works, providing information or updating the website. Whatever your skills, organisers say that volunteers will be put to good use.
With such a diverse range of exhibitions and events, over such a large area, Tiani and the team behind Angkor Art Explo hope that the festival will live up to its promise to put Cambodian contemporary art on the map.
“I think people are taking Asia more seriously in the art world. More and more pieces are selling for really high prices in the likes of America and the UK.”
She said a lot of the Asian art that is popular in the west originates from Japan and China primarily, but nowadays some of the Southeast Asian artists are beginning to get recognised.
“It’s a shift in the bigger art world picture,” she added.