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My Phnom Penh: Em Riem, artist

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My Phnom Penh: Em Riem, artist

A fashion and interior designer, sculptor and painter, Em Riem is a graduate of the Royal University’s Fine Arts program and the prestigious Arts Decos school in Paris and a prolific creator. He invited Bora Sunjolinet and Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon into his workshop to talk about his favourite places in the city

O’Russey Market

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Unlike a modern shop like a supermarket, you can hang out in O’Russey Market as long as you want. It’s got a wide variety of merchandise, especially fabrics and textiles, and all sorts of strange things. I’ll go to O’Russey Market with an idea in mind and then just by browsing I’ll come upon some materials that will give me a new or different design concept or fashion idea. But this doesn’t just happen in the textile aisles, I get ideas sometimes walking by the cooking section, the locks, or where you find fishing lines. For me, with all the Chinese textiles and fabrics you can find, it’s a bit of a Chinatown within Phnom Penh.

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Ambre is a shop where you can find clothes that are more regular use, but also very original. What I like about this shop is that the designer re-purposes fabric and uses ribbons and small bits of larger textiles that she combines together to make something new. The owner is French-Khmer and the decoration in the shop looks like the French [colonial] era, and the style of clothes also is influenced by French style. She really does something new with her combinations of textiles and fabrics, it’s a rarified style. Young designers should definitely check out Ambre and also Eric Raisina’s shop at Raffles to see what is possible in terms of original Khmer designs.

Russian Market

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Russian Market differentiates itself because I’ll go there for my painting and sculpture needs in particular. I find materials I need for my art, such as glues, inks, paints, papers and screen-printing materials to make T-shirts, for example. There’s also all the tools and metals [in the moto-parts section]. I can find good wood-cutting tools there, too. The metal shops are great for getting ideas for sculptures. As for prices, it is very reasonable. If I buy a lot of stuff, the sellers may lower the price for me. You can’t bargain like that in a supermarket or mall.

Sentosa Silk

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This shop specialises in silks and it’s little pricier than the markets. There are so many kinds of silks available there: Khmer traditional silk, thin silk, thick silk, and many more. It’s a Cambodian-owned shop and I’ve always gone there. It’s decorated to look historical and high class, and [the interior] is painted all in white. The silks are all made in Cambodia; they come from many different provinces. It’s like a gallery for seeing a variety of silk motifs, and as a designer I want to incorporate those motifs.

Riem’s Atelier/Workshop

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For inspiration, I don’t always have to go somewhere, I can just sit in my workshop and come up with an idea; all I need to do is concentrate on my thoughts. Here I do my paintings, sculptures and designs. It’s not a very large space, but this is where I spend my mornings. In the afternoons, I go to my gallery [X-Em], and in the evenings, well, I need to go to events and meet people for chit-chat. I always work alone. I used to have someone to work with, but it’s not easy for me to work with someone. Art comes from the heart, it’s personal. I paint for myself. If someone requests a painting to be done [on commission], there’s no doing it over.


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