The Center for Khmer Studies at Wat Damnak launched its Artists in Work program last week which is a new initiative aiming to provide local artists with room to work, exhibit and interact.
Svay Sareth is now using the centre’s conference hall as a temporary studio to complete new artwork for the upcoming Singapore Biennale, in which three Cambodian artists are participating.
CKS director Krisna Uk explained that their conference hall was often not in use and the board thought it would be good to do something more creative with it. She said, “We’d like to have artists, performers and sculptors use the space, especially local artists, as it’s an opportunity to make their work more well known in the local community. There is so much going on in Siem Reap and an emerging segment of a new type of artist and they need space to work, communicate and exhibit. And this is something CKS wants to help with. It’s really rewarding for us to have this kind of interaction.”
Svay Sareth, one of Cambodia’s foremost contemporary artists, works in several mediums and is perhaps best known for Mon Boullet, in which he dragged a 2-metre wide, 80-kilogram metal ball from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh in 2011.
Born in Battambang in 1972, Sareth spent his formative years in Site 2 refugee camp where he attended art classes. On returning to Cambodia he co-founded the now well-known art and circus school, Phare Ponleu Selpak in Battambang before moving to France in 2002 to continue his studies. He now lives and works in Siem Reap.
Sareth is excited about the possibilities of the Artists in Work program. “CKS is a very nice place to work. If artists want to do research they can go to the library easily and there is also a pagoda if they want to do research connected to culture. There can be a dialogue between the artists and the other people that use CKS’.”
He already knows of many artists who would benefit from the work area. “I know at least 10 artists who live here but they don’t know how to develop,” he said. “When you build a house you need foundations, and they need a place to found their future.”
As all participants have been sworn to secrecy by the Biennale organisers, we cannot reveal much about what Sareth is working on. But anyone interested in seeing the work-in-progress can visit Wat Damnak for a sneak preview – although no photographs are allowed – and this openness is a key component of the Artists in Work program.
Uk explains, “Last weekend tourists who are staying at the Golden Banana saw our banner outside and decided to come in and were very interested in Sareth’s work. It opens lots of doors so we’re really keen to work with other artists and other artistic organisations and we are open to ideas.”
For Uk, Sareth was the ideal choice to inaugurate the program. She says, “He is very talented and full of creative ideas and he is daring because he goes beyond the borders of the material. He’s a source of inspiration for other artists, who can see they can do whatever they want, develop and explore.”