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KBach Arts Competition hits the road in search of next big thing

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KBach Arts founder Tony Francis (fifth left) launches the KBach Artist 2020 in partnership with Cellcard at Hops Craft Beer Garden in Phnom Penh on September 5. Photo supplied

KBach Arts Competition hits the road in search of next big thing

KBach Arts is hitting the road with the 3rd edition of the Kingdom’s leading art competition – KBach Artist 2020 in partnership with Cellcard – as the pioneering arts collective searches out local talent ahead of announcing this year’s winners of the prestigious contest.

After its launch at a star-studded event at Hops Craft Beer Garden with members of the royal family, numerous ambassadors, leaders of industry and supporters of the bubbling Cambodian arts scene in Phnom Penh last month, the KBach Arts Competition is heading to Siem Reap and Battambang as it aims to unearth the next generation of Cambodian artists.

KBach – a term which refers to traditional Cambodian ornamentation styles – was set up by Tony Francis in 2017 “to showcase a renaissance aligned with the beautiful artistic heritage of the Kingdom”, with the Briton adding that the competition firmly reflects the essence of the organisation.

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“The ethos of KBach Arts is to identify, support and promote the Cambodian art scene. The amazingly unique opportunity we have here is not just to take part in a nascent market’s growth but, due to the history of this country, to realise an actual ‘phoenix from the flames’ situation. This is the reality of the Cambodian art renaissance at the moment,” Francis told The Post.

The winners of the three categories – which this year are canvas, street art and digital – will all receive a professional contract and thousands of dollars in prize money, as well as the chance for national and international exposure.

The flagship brand within the collective – which includes KBach Studio, the Air (artists in residence) Project and the KBach Arts competition – is KBach Gallery, which exclusively represents “legacy artists” – Cambodian-born artists with 30 years-plus experience and dedication to the Kingdom’s scene – and the winners of the competition.

So this year’s winner will join these legacy artists, 2018 winner Hour Soben and last year’s winner Moeurn Oun – known as Dara – to be represented by KBach Gallery and receive international exposure.

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Rina by Hour Soben, the winner of the first competition in 2018. Photo supplied

Dara’s solo exhibition is currently on display at Hops.

KBach Gallery opened in March 2017 “to showcase the beautiful fusion of Cambodian and international art”, Francis says, with pieces by Cambodian diaspora artists and foreign artists with a link to the Kingdom displayed at its first exhibition – Rebirth.

“With this as a kick-start, we soon felt the time was right for KBach Gallery to focus purely on Cambodian-born artists, and grow and provide new opportunities for the next generation – and this is based around the KBach Arts Competition. The first was launched in 2018. We gave out around 100 canvases and received some 60 back – and the quality of the art was truly astonishing.

“The response convinced us that we should build a platform for anyone, regardless of their economic or geographical situation, who is interested in art to be inspired to take part and, even if they don’t win, gain exposure, potentially work with our studio, and armed with new-found confidence, embark on a career as an artist,” Francis said.

‘London, New York, Paris’

Francis hailed the invaluable support of high-profile patrons and partners such as Cellcard – who are sponsoring this year’s competition – in sustaining the local scene.

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Sary Nou (right) and Saraboth Ea of virtual reality developer Hiverlab Cambodia are among the judges. Photo supplied

“This year’s competition has been elevated to a new level thanks to our partnership with Cellcard and the introduction of a digital arts division, reflecting the digital generation and facilitating the opportunity for more artists from all parts of the Kingdom to be involved.

“We are also honoured to have the opportunity to work with the Mudhita Foundation as our partnered charity and also receive sponsorship from MTN Cambodia and Clipper.

“We work with international art markets and fairs, and we have built up relationships with the most mature markets including London, New York, Hong Kong and Paris. We are very proud that over the past three or four years we have built up a sizeable collection of national and international buyers and supporters of the Cambodian art scene,” he said.

The Cambodian art scene is also gaining more and more attention internationally as artists such as Sopheap Pich and Leang Seckon have established global recognition and valuation of their artwork, Francis said.

Consequently, from an investment point of view, with the drastic increase in art prices for Cambodian-born artists, a genuine opportunity has arisen for collectors to be significantly rewarded for their support, the Londoner added.

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“The success of legacy artists such as Chhim Sothy, Sary Nou and Sous Davy, who are now commanding high prices for their work, means attitudes are changing, and by identifying and harnessing the incredible talent out there – and providing a pathway – the Cambodian contemporary scene is being revitalised,” Francis said.

The KBach Arts competition roadshow will be at Little Red Fox cafe in Siem Reap this Sunday, October 11, with a live painting, art exhibition and registration event from 10:30am.

For more information on the competition, KBach Arts and the Cambodian art scene, please visit KBach Arts’ Facebook or Instagram, or the Cellcard website.

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