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Sa Sa Art Projects breathes new life into old building

The gallery’s latest programme focuses on providing residencies that allow young artists to focus on their creative work for up to five weeks

Phnom Penh
SA Sa Art Gallery opened as Cambodia’s first artist-run gallery one year ago. Its six founders – all members of an artist group Stiev Selapak, or Art Rebels (from which the acronym-title Sa Sa is derived) – have not only revamped their website and gallery space but also started a new, non-commercial initiative: Sa Sa Art Projects.

“The goal of Sa Sa Art Projects is to encourage artists to realise new ideas and bodies of artwork without the limitations inherent to exhibiting in a commercial gallery,” said Lyno Vuth, Sa Sa’s manager.

After a successful fundraising collaboration with Bassac Art Projects and Baitong Restaurant, which raised the annual budget for the initiative, Sa Sa is already well into its programming calendar, which focuses on artist residencies.

The founders invite young Cambodian artists from the provinces as well as lesser-known artists in Phnom Penh to live and work at the Art Projects space for up to five weeks. Each residency culminates with a short exhibition open to the public for two weeks – by appointment on weekdays and open-door on weekends.

The Sa Sa Art Projects space is located in the dilapidated, iconic apartment bloc popularly known as “The Building” on Sothearos Boulevard.

Sa Sa cofounder Vandy Rattana said he chose the site to pay his respects to people like architect Vann Molyvann, a proponent of progressive thinking in the arts who contributed to the innovative urban planning scheme under which The Building was constructed in the culturally rich 1960s.

Today, The Building symbolises the urban problems for which it originally provided a solution. Now known for overcrowding, drugs and prostitution, the fading fa?ade and rundown infrastructure belies a vibrant community of several thousand residents including artists, musicians, community activists and everyday city dwellers.

Vandy Rattana added that the site is also a friendly venue where vulnerable communities can access art.

The first artist in residence at Sa Sa Art Projects, Lum Louern, is a graduate of Phar Art School. He came from Battambang to participate in a project at the French Cultural Centre.

He said the space at The Building provided him not only with a studio to realise his collaborations, but also a place to sleep at no cost.

“I found staying at Sa Sa Art Projects very intimate because I could connect to the old building and the people living here,” he said.

The most recent artist-in-residence, 28-year-old Kong Channa, moved into The Building earlier this week.

Sok Ny, the owner of the Sa Sa Art Projects space, was just the right candidate to approach as a landlord. Generations of her family were involved in the arts, including a grandfather who worked for the nearby but now demolished National Theatre, as well as an aunt who worked for the Royal University of Fine Arts.

“I’m excited that this project will help promote Cambodian art, especially through support for young artists,” she said.

Keep updated about Sa Sa Art Gallery and Sa Sa Art Projects activities at www.sasaart.info.

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