A new art gallery and bar has opened in Battambang, bringing what its founder says is a much-needed multipurpose performance and exhibition space for the local arts scene.
Lotus Gallery – which will host art exhibitions, films, music and live performances – joins a growing arts precinct along the provincial capital’s Street 2.5 which now includes Sammaki gallery, Make Maek gallery and a new antiques and curios shop opened by the people behind Lotus, Jewel in the Lotus.
On Saturday, Lotus opened its first exhibition: a selection of artwork from the graphic novel This Dog Barking by artist Nicolas C. Grey and author James Farley, both from the UK.
Darren Swallow, who is also British, said the idea of Lotus was to create an appropriate space with good facilities to showcase the increasing professionalism of Battambang’s artists.
“We’ve been putting on arts events for quite some time here in Battambang, and we never had a decent venue. [We had] film screenings where people had to sit on the floor because we didn’t have any chairs, or no facilities for food and drink, or no toilets.
“With Lotus we hope to provide a purpose-built venue with all facilities.
“We’ve had a lot of collectors coming through town – people from Hong Kong, Singapore and so on – wanting to look at local artists’ work and we’d like there to be a gallery that reflects the talent that’s here.”
Swallow said the building itself – an old colonial shopfront – had been vacant for six years when he discovered it. The roof was falling in and it was generally “pretty decrepit”.
“But when we saw the upstairs, we thought it would be a good spot for a gallery that would complement the other galleries in town,” he said.
The project ended up taking 18 months and finished 10 months behind schedule, mainly due to problems with local builders.
“It was a long old journey, but we’re finally there,” he said.
“It’s a beautiful building. We put a lot of thought and handwork into the design and renovation and it’s pretty unique to Battambang. Most places just put a lick of paint and a bit of bamboo furniture and I hope we’ve done a bit more than that.”
Lotus now has a bar, restaurant and small performance area downstairs with the gallery and a planned cinema room on the first floor.
Swallow said he would put on four exhibitions a year plus regular performances and screenings.
Artist Mao Soviet, who founded Make Maek, also on Street 2.5, said Battambang needed more spaces to showcase local artists’ work and a gallery and bar would bring introduce people to art.
“The more galleries in Battambang, this is good for artists here,” he said.
However, he said that Battambang still had a real need for a standalone gallery. “My opinion is that a bar is a bar, and a gallery is a gallery but a gallery with a bar is not really a professional gallery.”
Swallow said the idea of Lotus was to provide a high quality venue for different forms of artistic expression – not just paintings or sculpture.
“A small funky arts venue is the idea,” Swallow said. “Not just a gallery. [It will be] a bit like a smaller, funkier Metahouse with similar programming.
“We want to provide a place for anyone, whether they do spoken word, classical music, painting, sculpture, performance … anything.”