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One of the installation pieces featured in “Hawker’s song part 1.” PHOTO BY Uy Neiseremony

Like the city they aim to portray, the "Our City" exhibits have their good and bad

Are you bored with just walking around the city and seeing it through your own eyes? You’re in luck my friend, because for the next month you can check out a variety of art exhibits that allow you to see Phnom Penh through the eyes of many of its finest artists.

“Our City”, which runs for the entire month of September, features photography, painting, architecture, sculpture, film screenings, talks and discussions focused on defining Cambodia’s capital city and its transformation as it becomes part of a global civilisation (see the full calendar of events at javaarts.org/ourcity).

Last Thursday I got a call from a friend who wanted to check out some of the exhibits, and, since the whole idea of depicting my home city sounded like quite an artistic undertaking, I was happy to join.

Our first stop was J Gallery, located behind Java Café at #56 Sihanouk Blvd, to see Hawker’s song part 1, an installation piece combining video, audio and sculpture. Upon stepping into the small gallery my friend immediately began to complain about the repeating sound track of people selling roasted eggs that played over the whole room. After a few minutes – thank the lord – a woman came in and turned off the irritating audio-loop, allowing us to focus on the art work surrounding us.

“What the hell is that?” asked my companion as we turned our attention to a sculpture consisting of a bicycle, basket, radio and assorted objects set in concrete. I also found the piece too abstract to make ant sense of. The other work, utilising flattened soda cans, Khmer and foreign currency and other found objects, left us somewhat speechless, and with no curator to help us we lasted about 15 minutes before heading to our next destination on the Our City tour.

We made the 20-metre walk to Java Café & Gallery to check out “Walking Markets”. The cool decorations instantaneously put me in the mood to look at art. It just happened to be the opening of the exhibition, which featured 11 paintings in various shades of red, yellow and orange by Suos Sodevy. Along with a crowd of seemingly sophisticated Khmer and foreign art enthusiasts, I thoroughly enjoyed the series of thought-provoking impressionist works (we found out they cost more than $1,000 each!).
Our time at the cozy gallery with lovely music playing over the speakers was thoroughly enjoyable. But all art exhibits get boring after a while, and we decided to meet up the next day to check out some more art dedicated to our city.

We were instantly blown away by the pieces being shown at Bophana Audiovisual Centre. An expansive photo by Lim Sokchanlina of Phnom Penh’s streets was hanging adjacent to another wall-to-wall photo of a flooded street. They were like no photos I have ever seen. What a cool photographer!

Two more series, “Walking on Golden Land” and “Double City”, were also worth seeing although explanation from the artists, as always, would make them even better.

Our two days taking in the work of “Our City” artists was at times disappointing and breath-taking, and it left us excited to see more. If you are interested in the development of architecture and urban design in Cambodia’s quickly modernizing capital, you need to see it for yourself.