Through Art Gallery, Foundation Seeks New Development Ideas

The powerful artworks that The Asia Foundation currently has displayed in its reception room turned art gallery are at the center of the organization’s plan to trigger innovative thinking about Phnom Penh’s development.

Opening to the public today, the gallery is geared to feed young Cambodians’ appetite for art that pushes the envelope, said Silas Everett, country representative for The Asia Foundation.

Artist Sopheap Pich's bamboo sculpture depicting the first letter of 'Phnom Penh' in the Khmer script (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Artist Sopheap Pich’s bamboo sculpture depicting the first letter of ‘Phnom Penh’ in the Khmer script (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

“There’s this amazing thirst of people, younger people generally, who are just chomping at the bit for new stuff. They want…to have something that’s exciting and that’s visually stimulating and start them questioning the status quo,” he said.

The gallery is also meant as an invitation for people to drop by and visit the foundation’s office in central Phnom Penh, he said. “We’ve been in Cambodia since 1955…and we’ve been in that space for 20 years, [but] the average person in our community might not know us.”

While its projects have addressed issues ranging from human trafficking to human rights, The Asia Foundation has recently been in the news for its work helping City Hall and Cintri, the city’s private trash collection company, better manage Phnom Penh’s waste.

“The Asia Foundation is not a solid-waste management company: That’s not all we’re doing,” Mr. Everett said.

The desire to open discussion about the city, combined with the foundation’s wish to share its work with the public, led to the idea of an art gallery, and Cambodian-American artist Khiang Hei was asked to help make it happen.

Mr. Hei called on a number of peers, whose work speaks to the ongoing evolution of the capital city, to take part in the exhibition, titled “Phnom Penh: City of Grids.”

“Of course we talked to Kong Vollak,” Mr. Hei said. Mr. Vollak, whose work often focuses on the city, used charcoal to sketch a futuristic cityscape that spreads the whole length of the gallery’s wall.

Next, Mr. Hei contacted Meas Sokhorn, who has also addressed changes occurring in the city in previous installations. Mr. Sokhorn created a work in which small wooden homes are held together by strips of white bamboo, forming an oblong bubble. This rests on a pole in the middle of a silver outline of a lake that no longer exists, as if the homes were in search of a site to settle on.

Then Mr. Hei turned to Sopheap Pich, whose work often features grids, like a city. “He’s basically talking about the history of the grids, so how they were built, how they’re structured,” Mr. Hei said.

Mr. Pich contributed a work portraying Khmer character “phor,” the first letter of Phnom Penh, sculpted in bamboo.

The exhibition also features an oil painting by Chheng Kimhong, a young artist who created a bird’s eye view of Phnom Penh in bright colors. There are also images by photographer Sophal Neak of poor people having little space to call their own, depicted with their back to the camera, facing walls.

Running through February 25, the exhibition will be followed by a second one featuring works by architects and artists, said Chheng Makara, the Asia Foundation’s gallery director.

Located at 59,Street 242, the gallery is open to the public during office hours.

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