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White art occupies building

On Saturday night, the iconic White Building in Phnom Penh’s Tonle Bassac neighbourhood, was transformed into a vibrant art space for the grand opening of the White Night exhibition.

The exhibition is the culmination of a three-month collaboration by local art collective Stiev Selapak, London-based group Incidental and young residents of the building. Aspiring artists were trained in photography, sound, painting and sculpture, then encouraged to document their local community.

The result is a compelling look at a building often associated with poverty and vice, and a reminder of the area’s rich history.

The White Building, constructed in 1963 as housing for low-income residents, became the first example of apartment living in Cambodia. Although it has fallen into disrepair, the building is still home to a diverse group of residents whose daily lives are captured by the White Night artists.

The centrepiece of the exhibition was the “Somaki” sculpture, assembled entirely from discarded Coke bottles, shoes and other ephemera gathered from the building’s grounds.

Building resident and participating artist Hem Sokung broadcast audio for the exhibition composed from the cacophony of nearby sounds – motorbikes speeding away, hallway conversations, dogs barking and children playing.

One of the other stand-out works is by Chan Molita, a photographer who catalogued her mother’s work manufacturing royal dance garments.

“Her work supports our national art form; at the same time, I see it as an art form itself,” Chan Molita wrote in her exegesis.

“This work requires so much patience; not everyone can do it . . . fingers go numb and rough. Eyes blur . . . One piece of costuming – depending on the style – can take my mother between one and two and a half months to complete.”

In keeping with the exhibition’s goal to integrate its artwork into the local community, many of the pieces were spread out around the vicinity of the White Building.

In a café downstairs, tuk-tuk drivers and shift workers ate their dinner while a video of the building’s residents meandering through the hallways above played on the restaurant’s wall.

The exhibition will be on display until mid-March at the White Building, on Sothearos Boulevard.

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