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Gallery curator Yean Reaksmey outside of Java Café. Eli Lillis

Spotlight turns on art collectors at Java Café

Highlights from the collections of the city’s art lovers will be on display beginning next week in a new exhibition to promote the purchasing of local artwork. Object(s) of Collecting, which opens on Wednesday at Java Café, is a window into what hangs on the walls of arts patrons, as well as the relationship of collectors to the work they buy.

The idea for the exhibition originates with Yean Reaksmey, the gallery’s art curator, who is also an enthusiastic collector. It intends to promote “collectorship, patronage and art appreciation”, essential ingredients for expanding the market for modern and contemporary arts in Cambodia.

In Cambodia, collecting modern and contemporary art is still a new concept and generally misinterpreted as a Western-only pastime, although it exists in some form throughout the world. Speculating that such misinterpretation will keep the country’s art scene in an infantile stage, the collectors agreed to bring their work from home to the cafe, where they will be put on display in “a salon-like manner”.

“We also want to prove that Cambodians are enthusiastic in art collecting,” Reaksmey said. “The artworks represent each collector’s histories and memories. By putting them on display, the collectors will be able to show these stories along with their passion and taste in arts with the viewers.”

Reaksmey approached nearly two dozen Cambodian art collectors, 15 of whom agreed to lend their artworks for the exhibition. Among them are artists, art curators and historians, and government officials. Their names will be labeled next to their artwork if they give their permission.

One of those collectors is Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, a renowned dancerand award-winning choreographer of Cambodian classical dance. From her collection, Cheam Shapiro has chosen her favourite painting, Tomorrow, a depiction of a depressed old woman by the famous female painter Oeur Sokuntevv.

Tomorrow reflects the state of the poor and middle-class people in Cambodia,” Sophiline said. “Many people here live day by day, paycheck by paycheck, while the only future they are worried about is tomorrow, and their main concern is whether they have enough to eat or enough money to spend for another day of their lives.”

For Cheam Shapiro, the painting is a reflection of her own financial concerns in running her arts NGO, Khmer Arts Academy.

“Without the budget, our more than 20 artists will turn to other professions, for example [to be] garment workers,” she said. “This is the story of my devotion to Cambodia’s theater, and I want to share it with the others through Tomorrow.”

Moeng Meta, an art manager and assistant to the internationally acclaimed visual artist Sopheap Pich, lamented the lack of financial support for most contemporary artists in Cambodia.

“Most Cambodian modern and contemporary artists have to spend their own money on crafting the artwork, but they end up not being able to sell them because there are not many buyers and art collectors in Cambodia,” Meta says. “Having no market for their work means their talents are wasted and could force them to throw away their passions.”

According to Meta, public support is the only way to promote Cambodia’s modern and contemporary arts, and she sees Object(s) of Collecting as a positive start to such a movement. She lent two pieces from her exhibition but wanted to keep them secret until the opening.

“I believe the exhibition will not only expand the market for art objects but also help create a dialogue between artist and collectors,” she said. “This enhances mutual understanding and strengthens passions for arts.”

Object(s) of Collecting will open at the Java Café & Gallery on Wednesday, March 15 and will be open to the public with free admission until April 30.

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