MY PHNOM PENH: KHIANG HEI

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Khiang Hei: artist, teacher, curator and art consultant

MY PHNOM PENH: KHIANG HEI

Teacher, artist, curator and ad hoc adviser to a growing number of gallery owners in Phnom Penh, Khiang Hei sat down with Harriet Fitch Little to offer up his thoughts on some under-the-radar treats in the capital.

Maline Yim, "Untitled". 2015
Maline Yim, "Untitled". 2015

ARTIST
I enjoy the work of Yim Maline. She trained at Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang, then went to study in France for a while. One of the first paintings she sold in Cambodia was of a woman wearing a sarong like she was going to take a bath, but she was weightlifting. How many times do you see a woman weightlifting in Cambodia? She spends a lot of time making her work, and you can see that there’s a lot of energy to it. You can’t just look at it and walk away. There’s some kind of tension, a challenge, a dialogue. She makes these dreamlike women with long hair, and there are children kind of hanging off the hair … it’s hard to explain. She’s represented by Sa Sa Bassac in Phnom Penh, so you can see her work on their website. Thinking about artists in general in Cambodia, I think the problem is that they never fail because no one says anything to them that’s critical. As long as it’s selling, they just continue to make the same work. They need to wake up.

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ESCAPE
If I want to get out of Phnom Penh, I usually bike over to the other side of the river. Go to the Naga World casino and you’ll see a ferry to the left of the bridge which you can take. On the other side of the river you can see lotus flowers … palms … you can go and lose your way in the mango plantations … it really is just endless mangos. Then take a left turn and go along the Mekong and just get lost – it’s very beautiful. So that’s if you want to relax and get out of Phnom Penh, but if you want to learn, stay in the city – I’d say take the alleyway that goes between Central Market and Sorya Mall. You can see people watching games, market stalls, barbers … it’s full of life.

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Khiang Hei: artist, teacher, curator and art consultant

CAFE

My favourite place for coffee is Hour Hak on the corner of streets 13 and 118. It’s a small local cafe, where people were going even before the war. They come to chat, play chess and gamble. We even have generals. The cafe serves lunch and dinner, but in between that it’s pretty much just coffee – freshly roasted every day. It’s the perfect place for artists – we can just sit there for hours talking and people watching. There are many of these kinds of places in Phnom Penh, but they’re going to disappear soon and turn into “smiley malls” or whatever.

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MARKET

When they built it, Olympic Market was a disaster – it’s a horrible building. Today it’s still a horrible building, but what they have in there is interesting. The whole floor upstairs is dedicated to fabric, and they have a good quality supply. When I need velvet to use for my photographic backdrops I go there – it’s the only place in Phnom Penh that sells it. I think you’re able to find many materials in there that you wouldn’t find anywhere else. But each market is the place to go for different things – if I need ribbons, like when I did an installation piece where I asked people to tie me up, then I have to go to O’Russey Market, but it’s far more disorderly there.

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EMERGING FILMMAKER
The filmmaker Rithy Panh has been helping a lot of people through his workshops. One young filmmaker he’s been involved with is Neang Kavich. Kavich made a documentary a few years ago called Smot, where he interviewed people about their fear of ghosts. His other film is Where I Go. It’s about a Khmer-African kid dealing with race issues. I wouldn’t say in terms of composition it’s perfect – there’s a rough edge to it still – but it’s interesting that he picked up on this topic, and secured the interviews. I think filmmakers here need to see more good films – at the moment, they’re lacking a reference vocabulary.

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