Loven Ramos has been a tireless champion of Cambodia’s nascent art community. The owner of three of Siem Reap’s artistic institutions — 1961, Art Deli and Poetry — Ramos has been instrumental in the promotion of young artists from the country’s west, and is hoping to bank on his recent successes with the recent opening of the ARTillery Cafe in Phnom Penh.
7Days asked Ramos about the future directions of the country’s art scene.
Have you noticed any change in artistic trends in the time you’ve been in Cambodia?
Cambodia’s art scene has grown in leaps and bounds from the past years. Before, the art you see around used to be very elemental voices and echoes of their cultural heritage. You cannot take that away from them because of their strong cultural background to begin with, but recently, a diverse range of trends and artistic phenomena are sweeping across the country.
First of all, there’s the recognition of the power of a collective – most of the exciting work that has unfolded in the past seasons are from a collective of young, dynamic local artists who work together as a group. I guess the idea of artists feeding off each other’s creative energies create a synergy of work that a single artist cannot achieve. With art collectives like Sassa Bassac, 9 Faces and Trocheak Phneyk, a range of interesting collaborative exhibitions have been showcased.
Secondly there’s the trend of the artist as curator – most of the young artists we have featured in the past have matured considerably and now, they are going on to the next level as curators and educators. Most of them have even opened their own galleries. Before, most art galleries are foreign-owned, but now, we see more initiatives from local artists like Mao Soviet and his wife Phorn, who opened Maek Make Gallery and the community-run Sammaki Gallery in Battambang. We hope that this trend continues, as this is a good sign of the growth of the art community in Cambodia.
What about fashion trends?
Fashion in Cambodia is still in its infancy, frankly speaking, so fashion trends might be a tad too big of a statement to conjure. However, with the presence of fashion-centric publications like F magazine focusing on local talents and global fashion within the Cambodian context, we are definitely on the right track. The Cambodia Fashion Week also triggered an interest on this, but the issue is still in production. For us to realise “fashion trends” is to be able to translate it into a larger buying public and for it to be a constant evolution of shapes, colours, materials and design.
What are your favourite events and exhibitions that have been staged in your venues?
When I was a creative consultant for Hotel de la Paix’s Arts Lounge we did some exciting exhibitions with curator Don Protasio, where we transformed the space into more than a gallery with walls. We did the Clouds exhibition by Srey Bandoul where the works hovered over the ceiling and we had an installation of glass where “clouds” were pumped and encased on it. Another one was Desire where we asked a chef, opera singers and artists to interpret the paintings with food, scent and music. We also had some amazing exhibitions at the McDermott Gallery where openings were turned into masquerades, fashion shows and performance art. At Art Deli, we turned the 9 Faces exhibition into an interactive street art project while at 1961, my favourite so far was this recent show called Khmer Revelry, curated by Khmer artist Veasna Tith, which became a festival in itself.
What resources do you think artists are lacking in Cambodia, and what can be done to help them reach their potential?
The biggest issue is still accessibility to quality supplies. For archival quality canvas, paper, paint, etc, you have to go all the way to Bangkok or Singapore for them. If they a re ever available here, the prices are just so unreasonable that most struggling artists won’t be able to afford them. We definitely need entrepreneurs who can address this issue. There goes one big business idea!
Which up and coming local artists are you excited about?
I have always been a big fan of Kchao Touch’s work. Her paintings, sculptures and pen and watercolour works are simply phenomenal. Bo Rithy, Ben Thynal, Loeum Lorn and Kong Vollak are also some of the country’s most prolific artists. Khvay Samnang, Svay Sareth and Mao Soviet are visionaries – expect their every step to turn you over!
Where do you see the country’s art scene in 10 years?
As much of the spotlight on art has been focused on new Asian stars like China, Indonesia and India, Cambodian art is definitely on the reins of the global stage. With the Cambodian art focus in New York happening this year, this will simply create an insatiable thirst for Cambodian art in the years to come. Top that with a young, dynamic generation of artists that have sprung up as well as the creation of provincial art hubs like Battambang and Siem Reap, expect the art scene to explode with a bang here and internationally.
What projects are on the horizon that you’re excited about?
After the interest in poetry through our Woven Words project recently, we are organising a full poetry festival this coming November 2-4 in Siem Reap. We will place an emphasis on Smot, an ancient form of Khmer lyrical poetry, and also take our poetry into the streets.
We are also organising the 2nd Angkor Art Explo with the project’s co-founder, Jam Ramjattan, for January 2013. This will be a bigger event than our first one since we will be covering three cities (Siem Reap, Battambang and Pailin) for this art festival.