With its enchanting temples and laid-back village life, Laos resembles a mythical land where time stands still; similarly, the Lao art market remains underdeveloped. And yet, Laotian art is slowly evolving as the country gradually continues to open up and artists respond to new stimuli. Here is a sample of cultural venues showcasing the best of Laotian art, from cutting-edge contemporary art to the thriving industry of ethnic arts and crafts.
The National Institute of Fine Art (NIFA) exhibition hall is the place to go to discover the future of Laotian art, and perhaps pick up a painting at a bargain price. Exhibiting in a beautiful old building on the corner of Khoun Boulom Road, the NIFA presents paintings, sculptures and installations made by its students and staff. For the past fifty years, the NIFA has seen many of the country’s most famous artists pass through its doors, either as students or as teachers, or both, and continues to nurture the country’s fledgling art practice. It has recently become part of the Ministry of Information, Culture and Tourism, which means the promotion of Laotian artists will be better supported, both at home and abroad.
National Institute of Fine Art, Ban Anou, Khoun Boulom Road, Vientiane, Laos
M Gallery was established in 2008 and is located in both Vientiane and Singapore. The gallery specialises in contemporary art from Laos, Thailand and Vietnam, and holds regular exhibitions – first in the Vientiane gallery, so that local work can be seen by the community, before being shipped to Singapore for exhibition. In this way, M Gallery has consistently promoted Laotian art on the international arts scene. The gallery represents a wide selection of Lao artists including Khamsouk Keomingmuang, May Chandavong, Kongphat Luangrath and video artist Souliya Phoumivong, as well as supporting up-and-coming artists through artists residencies and collaborative work.
Founded in 2004, Treasures of Asia is the country’s oldest contemporary art gallery, located in the heart of Vientiane. The gallery also holds the largest and most diverse collection of contemporary art in Laos. With close links to the National Institute of Fine Art, Treasures of Asia actively seeks to aid the development of contemporary art in Laos. In fact, the gallery actively encourages artists to gather and exchange ideas, to develop their creativity. From surrealism to abstract art, Treasures of Asia represents all the diversity of contemporary art in Laos today.
Treasures of Asia, 86/08 Setthathirath Road (opposite Vat Hong Teu), Vientiane, Laos, +856 (0)21 222236
The Lao Textiles workshop and gallery, located in a wonderfully renovated French colonial mansion near the Mekong River in downtown Vientiane, was founded in 1990 by American Carol Cassidy. Here, forty Lao artisans hand-weave exquisite works of art – wall hangings, scarves, furnishings – in 100% silk. Combining Carol’s expertise in textiles with ancient local techniques and designs, the workshop has revived interest in Laotian weaving and brought it bang up-to-date, with pieces displayed in The Textile Museum in Washington DC, The Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York.
Lao Textiles, Ban Mixay, Vientiane, Laos, +856 (0)21 212123
The i:cat gallery is a small but agile gallery in Vientiane. It opened in 2009 in a glass-fronted space, showing contemporary art from local Laotian artists, as well as expats and foreigners. Since then, it has hosted a range of exhibitions and events, including visual art, music performances, poetry readings, design, installations and book launches. Come here for a fresh and exciting perspective on Laotian art.
i:cat Gallery, 16:230-231 Settathirath St, Si Muang, 16230 Vientiane, Laos, +856 (0)20 77 839674
Ock Pop Tok is a social enterprise that represents the whole range of textiles, handicraft and design unique to Laos, working with women artisans and rural producer groups. The Living Crafts Centre, launched in 2005, consists of a weaving and dyeing studio, craft school and exhibition space. Set in a tropical garden on the banks of the Mekong River, it is a wonderful place to visit and learn about Laotian arts and crafts, take a class, or simply relax with a meal at the charming Silk Road Café. Ock Pop Tok also practises fair trade with its producers, so the handcrafted souvenirs on offer are not only genuine, but serve a good purpose too.
Situated near the TAEC and the National Museum, Project Space is a non-profit arts space that breathes new life into the Laotian arts scene. It was conceived by architect and designer Jean-Pierre Dovat and publisher Rik Gadella, opening in 2010 to host exhibitions and events, making use of its three floors, four exhibition rooms, artist’s studio and rooftop terrace. In addition to its own activities, Project Space also collaborates with other cultural institutions and has extended its reach to exhibit at international arts festivals abroad. Fine art, design and traditional handicraft are all represented here, with exhibitions from diverse artists including Sarah Cheesbrough, Prasert Yodkaew and shamanistic textile work by husband and wife Phasao Lao and Tcheu Siong.
Project Space, House No. 6, Kitsalat Road, Thong Chaleuan Village, Luang Prabang, Laos, + 856 (0)71 213091
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre (TAEC) is an independent, non-profit museum dedicated to the preservation of traditional arts and lifestyles among the many Laotian ethnic groups. The centre opened its doors in 2007 and has since worked towards encouraging engagement with ethnic minority groups and supporting the artisans within these communities. As part of this endeavour, the TAEC presents permanent and special exhibitions displaying the diversity of Laotian ethnic cultures, often with rare insight and detail. The strength of these exhibitions is their engagement with living and breathing communities, whose wood carvings, hand-spun cotton and appliqué toys are also available at the TAEC shop, which has an ethical partnership with over 600 artisans across twelve provinces.
The Traditional Arts and Ethnology Centre, Ban Khamyong, Luang Prabang, Laos, +856 (0)71 253364