Indonesia furnishing Khmer artists with fresh role models

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Kong Vollak is best known for his work in charcoal. Charlotte Pert

Indonesia furnishing Khmer artists with fresh role models

Cambodia’s art scene may still be small, but if the career of Kong Vollak is anything to go by, it’s increasingly going global.

Last week, the artist was in Australia, attending the opening of the Jong Jam II exhibition of Khmer art. This week he’s back, and deep into whirlwind preparations for the arrival of five Indonesian artists who are coming to Phnom Penh for the exchange project No Boundaries.

The joint exhibition, which is taking place at both Java Arts and the Community Art Gallery at the Asia Foundation, features five Cambodian artists alongside five of their Indonesian contemporaries.

“I met an Indonesian artist called Antonius Kho during an art exchange in Myanmar,” explains Vollak, who is most recognised locally for his expansive charcoal cityscapes.

“He’d organised an Indonesian-Thai exhibition, and one with Indonesia and the Philippines, and he wanted the third one to be Indonesia and Cambodia.”

Vollak says the exhibition, which will be replicated in Jakarta after its Phnom Penh debut, marks the first exchange of its kind between the two countries. During the trip, the Indonesian artists will be conducting workshops.

“Their style is different, but still Asian,” says Vollak. While Cambodian contemporary artists often express a preference for figurative art, Indonesian art is mainly abstract, with a strong focus on patterns, the subject matter often intentionally naive and playing with fable motifs.

But the main difference, Vollak says, lies in the respective scale of the art industry: Jakarta boasts a robust commercial art market, and is frequently floated as Asia’s next commercial art hub, while most art in Phnom Penh is achieved through NGO backing.

“In Cambodia, people are trying to get to a place where they understand, but they’re not there yet,” he said. “Indonesians understand about contemporary art, and they have a far bigger population who can get involved.”

Among the artists visiting from Indonesia is Diyano Purwadi, instantly recognisable in his home country for his strangely bulbous figures, imbued with the spirit of magical realism. Also on show are works by the event’s initiator, Anthony Kho, whose festive, abstract works are representative of the Bandung school of art – a significant influence in the evolution of contemporary Indonesian style.

It’s clear Vollak’s enthusiasm for the exchange is reciprocated – the Indonesian artists visiting are paying out of their own pockets to make the trip.

But, he points out, the Cambodian artists won’t have the same luxury when they travel to Jakarta for the return show.

“Cambodian artists are still poor,” he says with a smile. “We’ll need to find some sponsors.”

No Boundaries opens on June 21, 6:30 pm at the Asia Foundation, #59 Street 242. The exhibition will run in tandem at Java Arts, #56 Sihanouk Blvd until June 30.

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