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Feeding both the stomach and the soul

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Artist Sophy Phal was one of the first Pancart participants. Sam Walker

Feeding both the stomach and the soul

Dutch expat’s monthly Pancart events see a diverse range of people get together to talk art and eat pancakes

Friendly, food-loving and not afraid to experiment with alternative lifestyles: a new artistic venture in Siem Reap is confirming Dutch national stereotypes in the best possible way.

Pancart, founded by Dutchman Martin Hablitzel, is a unique monthly event, which aims to bring friends and acquaintances together from both expat and local Khmer communities to share in their two common interests: art and pancakes.

The project, Hablitzel explained, all began on a houseboat named Lucie in Amsterdam two years ago. At first, Hablitzel would host barbecues on his boat. When the weather got too cold for outdoor cooking, he moved inside to the living room, inviting a group of friends to listen to a few artists talk about their work and eat pancakes.

The concept proved popular, and when Hablitzel moved to Siem Reap nine months ago, he decided to export the project with him.

Despite relocating to the other side of the world, the model hasn’t changed much.

“I invite friends over to a place – my house or public venues – two or three of them present their art, whatever that may be, and the Pancart crew and I make pancakes for everybody,” he said. He’s found a ready audience: about 50 participants turned up for the last event.

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Martin Hablitzel first combined art and pancakes on a houseboat named Lucie. Sam Walker

Hablitzel works by day as an IT project manager and does not have a background in art. But he doesn’t see this as a problem, because of the open-ended nature of the Pancart mandate – for the Dutchman, art is simply “somebody’s talent or a passion that creates something beautiful or makes the world a better place”.

He refers to Pancart as a “movement” that attracts those who are curious, including artists, yoga enthusiasts, vegans and those seeking an alternative lifestyle.

“Pancart is more like a lifestyle than this specific event,” Hablitzel said, describing it as a welcoming network that explores progressive ways to share and learn from others.

The 36-year-old lives in what he calls the “Pancart house”.

It’s a big duplex-style house he shares with a Khmer family and a group of like-minded, art-loving people, including resident artist Sophy Phal.

The 20-year-old Phal is a former soldier who started taking art lessons when he was 16 and is hoping to hold an exhibition in the future.

Back in February, Phal joined forces with Stuart Cochlin from the Giant Puppet Project to present at the first Siem Reap Pancart.

For Hablitzel, the most important thing about Pancart is the possibilities inherent in its events, which connect people and communities.

“Whoever has whatever idea, come to me and we will make it happen – the crazier the better,” he said.

A recent initiative included a bunch of people in the front yard of the Pancart house, treading in paint and then walking over canvases to create a large abstract art piece.

Hablitzel is hoping some of the large spaces in the house will be used to hold art workshops and exhibitions.

“It is about empowering each other,” he said. “We are all consumers of culture.”

Sam Walker


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