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La Paix’s art shows live on

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Café de la Paix’s assistant curator Savann Oun is thrilled that there’s still room for art displays. Photograph: Claire Byrne/Phnom Penh Post

Hotel de la Paix’s Arts Lounge may have closed, but the work of the hotel’s art program lives on. When the new Café de la Paix opened its doors, its dedicated followers (me included) came flocking like caffeine-starved zombies. There were many notable similarities: much of the seating remained unchanged, the light fittings, the door handle and the food counter remained, as did those cute napkin holders with the magnets. The pizza, the ice-cream, the coffee, and the cakes were still stocked. In fact the whole café had just been transplanted to a new venue.

But there was something else distinctly reassuring for fans of all things de la Paix; some of the hotel’s favourite artists were present with their work adorning the walls.

Rafael Winer, Oeur Sokuntevy, and Vincent Broustet, la Paix veterans, and Soun Seney and Chhom Channa, some of Cambodia’s brightest new talents, are all given wall space in the new café.

“Hotel De La Paix was one of the biggest promoters of art in Siem Reap,” says la Paix’s assistant curator Savann Oun. He says when he and Sasha Constable, the hotels art curator heard the hotel was closing, they wanted to find an alternative venue.

But when it was decided that the café would reopen, they were happy to be able to exhibit there.

Savann, an artist in his own right, says the artists were chosen by him and Sasha as favourites who had previously exhibited with the hotel over the past year, or who were on the books as potential exhibitors.

Winer’s fashion photography was an integral part of the Eric Raisina exhibition earlier this year, and his latest collection at the café shows unique shots from his travels in Myanmar.

Oeur is one of the Kingdom’s most acclaimed young artists, and Savann describes her work as an exploration of freedom, while Broustet, whose work sold out at the final la Paix exhibition, Seven, continues his experimentation with velvet as a canvas, this time using oil paints, creating “a reflection of the moon on water” according to Savann.

Chhom and Soun are both graduates of Phare Ponleau Selpak, where Savann himself studied. Chhom’s beautiful and highly detailed tree close-ups show the often overlooked elements we miss when in search of the bigger picture. Soun, also an art teacher, has more abstract acrylic paints in a series called Rain, exploring the link between freedom and privilege.

Savann, originally from Battambang, is a sought-after man, even aside from his curating projects. He will have an abstract photography exhibition in September, he teaches at Green Gecko and the Landmine Museum, and has invitations to lecture and teach workshops abroad.

But, despite the closure of de la Paix, he’s not tempted to jump ship. “I love Siem Reap and I am the only Cambodian curator here. Battambang and Phnom Penh have many, but I am the only one here who is from Cambodia. I have a lot of concepts and I want to promote Cambodian artists. I want to meet them, and encourage them.”

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