Traditional art may still dominate in Cambodia, with paintings of Angkor Wat, rural scenes and portraits most commonly found hanging on the walls of homes, but a new generation of artists are championing the latest art trends. As more contemporary art is introduced to the country, a wave of creatives are catching on and the movement is quickly spreading. Here are ten artists to watch out for.
As one of the country’s most well-known artists – some say Cambodia’s first contemporary artist – Leang Seckon, 47, combines ancient Khmer narratives with modern-day concerns, such as rapid development, environmental degradation and Cambodia’s violent past. He first came to Phnom Penh in 1992 to enrol in a painting class at the Royal University of Fine Arts and since then has made multimedia work that draws heavily on personal experience. Having sold his first painting at on the banks of a river for $350, his work now goes for up to $20,000.
A stalwart on the contemporary art scene, 44-year-old Em Riem dares to be different. Originally from Kandal province, he studied at the Royal University of Fine Arts of Phnom Penh and also in France – at the School of Fine Arts of Saint-Etienne and the Higher National School of Decorative Arts of Paris. Reim’s fashion sense is as loud as his art and he is one of his country’s leading male models. His art includes a wide range of materials and inspirations, from sofas made of rattan (a type of palm often used as wood) to abstract aluminium sculptures and from painted portraits of Khmer Rouge victims to eclectic acrylic paintings of the countryside. He also has his own gallery – X-em Galerie.
Chan Dany hails from Prey Veng and studied at Reyum Art School before becoming one of the major figures in the current Cambodian art world. His work fuses a diverse range of art forms and unusual materials to explore his native culture. Mediums he dabbles with include painting, sewing and collage. Born in 1984, Dany has featured in solo and group exhibitions in countries across the world. These include Singapore, Germany, France, Austria, the UK, and Hong Kong – where he was nominated for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2015.
33-year-old Dina Chhan is one of Cambodia’s only female sculptors, but her artistic skills also extend to paintings which focus on themes of life, music and everyday activities. Her passion for creativity has led to her teaching art to children and teenagers in several of the capital’s orphanages and at the International School Phnom Penh. Chhan’s work is influenced by her upbringing in a refugee camp in Poipet; she also uses her art practice to raise awareness of Cambodia’s hidden landmines – which cause a huge issue to this day. She was the only female Cambodian artist to take part in the UN Mine Action Gateway, during which she visited mine-affected provinces to see how Cambodia is tackling the explosives and presented her interpretation of the issues through sculpture.
Having scooped the top prize at Singapore’s Prudential Eye Awards early last year, as well as securing a show at London’s prestigious Saatchi Gallery in September, Svay Sareth is one of the founding fathers of the contemporary art movement. Born in 1972 in Battambang, he started making art as a young teen living in the Site Two Refugee Camp near the Thai border. Drawing and painting became his daily escape from the violence he witnessed growing up under the Khmer Rouge regime. After the war ended, Sareth co-founded Phare Ponleu Selepak, an NGO and art school in Battambang that is behind the popular attraction Phare, the Cambodian Circus. Sareth’s range of sculptures and installations are made using materials and processes associated with war, such as metals, uniforms and camouflage.
One of the country’s leading young contemporary photographers, Kim Hak hints at untold stories through his atmospheric photographs. Born in 1981 in Battambang, he has used his photography to illustrate Khmer Rouge survivor tales, record the funeral of King Sihanouk and the changing landscape of his homeland. His work has been featured in art and photography festivals, such as Photoquai in Paris, World Event Young Artists in Nottingham and the Singapore International Photography Festival. In 2011, he won a residency at musée du quai Branly-Jacques Chirac in Paris and second prize at the exhibition Stream Photo Asia in Bangkok.
Born in Phnom Penh in 1970, Remissa MAK is seen as one of his generations most successful photographers. Having studied painting and photography at the Royal University of Fine Arts, Remissa has exhibited and distributed his photographs worldwide during the last two decades as both a photojournalist and fine artist and his work quickly gained international recognition. Seven pieces from MAK’s ‘Fish & Ants‘ project are part of the Singapore Art Museum’s permanent collection, and he is a photojournalist for the European Pressphoto Agency.
Although he trained as an interior designer at the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, the fine art has always been at the forefront of Sokhorn Meas’ mind, so after graduating, his yearning for artistic expression remained unfulfilled. He started experimenting with creating sculptures, paintings and staging live performances. In 2006, he held his debut solo exhibition at Phnom Penh’s Java Arts and his career as a full-time artist was launched. Drawing inspiration from his surroundings, the 39-year-old is not afraid to use his work to make a statement. Meas is renowned for his use of waste materials and objects, such as barbed wire, rotting wood and plastic.
Kong Vollak was born in 1983 in Phnom Penh and grew up with a passion for all things creative. In 2006, he graduated from Royal University of Fine Arts, specialising in sculpture and since then has been exhibiting frequently throughout Cambodia. In 2007, together with some peers, he formed the art collective Stiev Selapak (Art Rebels); that same year Vollak was nominated as Cambodian Curator for the Mekong Art and Culture Project. Two years later, he became a high school art and art history teacher in Svay Rieng province in order to nurture a new generation of artists. He uses a range of art techniques to reflect on Cambodia’s history and to voice his concerns about how development and globalisation are impacting his country.
Teang Borin, more commonly known as Din, would sit on the dusty tracks in his Kampot village as a kid and trace drawings into the ground with a stick. Growing up, he developed an interest in everything from painting to interior design. In 2000, he moved to Phnom Penh to study architecture, and it was during this five-year course that he became fascinated with dancers of the Apsara (a Khmer classical dance) that enchant audiences with their graceful gestures. He therefore began creating large abstract paintings of the dancers. The growth of his reputation meant he opened a gallery called DinArt in 2015.