Cambodian by Design; Regional by Aspiration

An exhibit at No Problem Park … something, something–something

A word of advice to those who will attend the art and design show “Salon des createurs” in the coming days: Expect the unusual, from the clever to the dazzling.

The word is creativity, whether it is made practical or turned into fun objects such as artist Em Riem’s designs, which range from coatracks to an armchair with a huge beach ball as seat.

There is Ambre boutique, displaying Romyda Keth’s clothes against four panels created by artists and photographers, ending the presentation fashion-show style with a wedding gown.

Fashion designer Lim Keo just opened his boutique and is showing an evening dress made of gold and white silk threads shaped into swirls.

Held through March 13 at 55 Street 178, a location also known as No Problem Park, the second annual design show brings together more than 20 participants, twice last year’s number, said Madeleine de Langalerie, who organized the event in cooperation with the French cultural center.

Those works make one realize that Cambodia has a wealth of imagination and talent, which needs to be marketed not only locally but also regionally, she said. If there is a third show next year, its goal may be to expand its reach into other parts of Southeast Asia, she added.

This year’s show includes a large number of designers with an international following. “I believe that to have well-known people in this second show serves as a draw so that young people can also exhibit,” Ms de Langalerie explained.

For instance, young designer Tith Kanitha will have an installation in the show next to pieces by Sopheap Pich, who is now represented by agents in Hong Kong and New York.

But even reputed designers and artists will have something new in the show as every participant, Ms de Langalerie said, “created a unique work for the salon, which you will be seeing for the first time.”

For example, in addition to one of his signature rattan sculptures, Mr Pich is exhibiting a black-and-white print on paper made with a woodblock technique. “I have done woodblock for a couple of years…just to take my mind off three-dimensionals,” he said.

In addition to a few expatriates, such as Catherine Theron, who will exhibit home décor silk panels made by her Kashaya Silk’s weavers in Takeo province, participants include several Cambodian returnees with successful careers abroad who have set up workshops in the country.

For Ly Pisith, who created a jewelry design studio in Siem Reap City in 2008, his art was a way to erase his bitter memories of Cambodia and at last turn the page, he said.

After the ouster of the the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, Mr Ly was a 12-year-old orphan trying to survive on the streets of Phnom Penh. Tired of the struggle, he fled to the Thai border, managed to reach a refugee camp, and was eventually selected by France’s Red Cross to study at a boarding school in France. Supporting himself as best he could, he nearly completed his studies in architecture and earned a good living drawing plans for various French firms in the 1980s, he said

In the early 1990s, Mr Ly started designing eyeglasses for fashion shows and specialized designers such as Alain Mikkli and Philippe Stark, as well as for private clients including French actress Jeanne Moreau and singer Elton John. He also designed medical equipment for international firms. He opened his jewelry workshop, Garden of Desire, in 2008 in Siem Reap City to train young designers, and is now selling his line in Washington, DC, and London.

The pieces on exhibit are what Mr Ly calls his “Khmer collection,” in which he has incorporated the gray sandstone used to build Angkorian temples. “No one thinks of doing something with them,” he said. “For me, it’s a way of showing that one can create with a piece of stone, a piece of metal, that one can make it speak…. That’s creating.”

Mr Ly plans to turn his boutique over to his trainees when they are ready to take over, he said.

For Oum Maknorith, mentoring young designers is also a crucial part of his work: One of the reasons why he is taking part in the show this year is to give people he trained the chance to exhibit, he said.

In 1973, Mr Oum moved to Paris, where he worked for fashion designers Guy Laroche and Givenchy and for high-end prêt-a-porter houses before opening his own boutique. In 1981, he held his first show. In Cambodia since 2000, he has taught and created home décor items for the Tokyo and Paris markets. This month, he will be opening his shop in Phnom Penh and launching his prêt-a-porter and fashion accessory collection.

Among objects at the salon will be a gown he designed for a unique piece of silk created by the Khmer Silk Village association of silk farmers and weavers. Mr Oum is also exhibiting mannequins made of metal and porcelain–meant to express positive and negative energy surrounding us–wearing silk models, he said.

This show, he said, “is an opportunity to motivate the young generation of Cambodian designers…to give them the chance to make themselves known and show their ideas.” Moreover, they can see at the show what is being done in the field, which may prompt them to explore new concepts, Mr Oum said.

Even for established designers and artists, the show may serve as a useful place to network, said Lim Muy Theam, who designs under the name Theam.

“This is good for us, creators and artists who are extremely isolated especially in Siem Reap, to have an event to stimulate us…where we can share new means of expressions and techniques with colleagues as well as with the public so they can see what is being done in the Cambodian context.”

Mr Theam is an interior-design architect who studied in France and worked for a number of luxury hotels before becoming design director for the art-and-craft company Artisans d’Angkor in Siem Reap City. Late last month there, he opened his boutique and workshop specializing in lacquer objects and paintings. His contribution to the salon is an installation consisting of a horde of about 100 elephants–each one sculpted and lacquered in a vibrant color–which took a team of nine workers three months to create, he said.

Mr Theam’s installation is set up in the gardens of No Problem Park as the show’s exhibits this year are spread throughout the gardens and the 1920s building’s second floor.

To showcase works set up outdoors, a group of artists have painted giant scenes on the straw mats covering the garden fence.

One of them is Peap Tarr, a New Zealander whose mother is Cambodian and who came to Cambodia last year. An award-winning artist who has exhibited in the US and Australia in addition to New Zealand, he painted a creature resembling Cambodia’s mythical serpent naga, which reminds him of the taniwha, the mythical water creature of New Zealand’s Maori people, he said.

The show is open from 11 am to 8 pm. Admission is free.



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