The Center for Khmer Studies’ first photographic exhibition, Beyond Borders, opened last Sunday and features works by five Siem Reap-based. The 50 photos in the show are all taken in different countries and include shots of a refugee camps in the Sahara desert, poppy fields in the Czech Republic and sacred pilgrimage sites in Nepal and south India.
The five snappers taking part are long-term Belgian expat Stéphane de Greef, Czech photographer Anna Bella Betts, Brit Holly Barber, Italian Valentina Chiodi and Kimleng Sang from Takeo Province, who has lived in Siem Reap since 2000. De Greef and Betts say the exhibition came about because the Center for Khmer Studies decided to hold a series of exhibitions in 2014 in the large, leafy grounds of Wat Damnak pagoda where the centre is located. “It was a combination of having photographers who were looking for a place to exhibit their work, and CKS looking into new activities to run in the place,” says de Greef.
“But it’s just not about photographers from abroad who live here,” adds Betts. “It’s more about Cambodian photographers or young artists who want a little bit more of a venue that’s not limiting them in terms of accessibility.”
She feels that some of the venues in high-end hotels are intimidating to some people.
Both feel that CKS is a more accessible and welcoming location which is part of the appeal, drawing in more of a Khmer crowd.
“Normally people just sit, study and chat here, so it’s very open, very Khmer-friendly place,” says Betts. “It’s open to the public, making photography accessible to a wider audience.”
Beyond Borders comprises 10 images from each of the five photographers. Barber has focused on photos from her travels around Nepal, Sri Lanka and India in her collection, First Light on the Subcontinent, showcasing stunning panoramic views of mountains, valleys and temples.
In Hands, Chiodi depicts various people going about their daily lives in Cambodia, Myanmar and India, from the mother embracing her child to the close-up detail of a craftsman engraving a piece of lacquer.
Kimleng Sang brings to life the watery world of the Tonlé Sap in Dteuk (Water), documenting the fishing communities who live on the lake. Ceci n’est pas un Pays by de Greef is a photo story shot in southwestern Algerian Sahrawi refugee camps where he was assisting with a census of landmine survivors, while in European Summer Betts explores her home country with nostalgic, sunny images of countryside and city.
“The common point is that we are photographers and we’re living in Siem Reap, but we’re taking photos of five very different subjects,” says de Greef. “We wanted to have as wide as possible a scope of photography all assembled in one place, so that people visiting can see different countries. Cambodian people will discover the desert of Sahara, the agricultural land of the Czech Republic, the mountains of Nepal – all these things that they might not know very well.”
Beyond Borders runs daily until February 2.