Art for Art’s Sake in Phnom Penh
It’s good to find more unusual things to do in any new location; I discovered that there was an area of Phnom Penh where Street Art has been encouraged, and Lindsey found a delightful Art Bar where we could allow our creativity to flow.
Street 93 in the Boeung Kak area used to be a popular and thriving backpackers community around a lake. Sadly, developers took over, filled in the lake, evicted the residents with little compensation and more tragically left the land derelict, which attracted criminals and drugs to the area.
“Street 93 Art” begun a few years ago when two women to the risk and opened up a French café called Simone’s Bistro and Art. Their vision was to turn Boeung Kak into an art district, and they invited local and international artists to decorate the walls with colourful murals. Although the café has since closed, the street art (albeit a little faded and chipped in places) is worth seeking out, and we enjoyed wandering around in the baking heat, finding gems of art in various places.
Lindsey came across The Art Bar, where we could express our artistic talent and have fun painting. We arrived unannounced, and the co-founder turned up a few minutes later. Jefferson dropped out of school in the Philippines. He has always loved painting, and when he moved here, his art career was established. The old warehouse is so well suited to this enterprise. It’s a light, airy room where there are several work stations all set up ready to go. Sometimes a potter is also available for clay pot or wheel lessons. Jeff is very laid back and is very happy for his clients to just do their own thing with the materials (canvas and acrylics) provided for a fee for the session. He is gently encouraging and willing to help, giving guidance when needed. Two young girls arrived, and one brought a photo of her dog. As a beginner, this would have been quite challenging to paint, but Jeff sketched out a “painting-by-numbers” pop-art representation for her. What a great idea. Lindsey did a wonderful, vibrant scene of a tree in blossom inspired by a picture she had found. Tim used a photo he had taken of the fishing boats from the cable car in Phu Quoc.
Tim and Lindsey have done a few arty things during their travels, and carry around a little watercolour box with them. I haven’t seen it in use since I’ve been with them, which a shame, as they both enjoy painting, finding it very relaxing.
Realising we weren’t able to travel easily with our masterpieces, I asked that the canvas be cut into eight pieces and enjoyed messing about with the acrylics trying to copy photos of plants, sculpture and the food we enjoyed eating at lunchtime. Lindsey and Tim ended up leaving their finished pieces with our host, Petra to maybe share with Tomtom back at ABC Dutch B&B. Whiling away our time painting was a great antidote to our normal sightseeing activities, and we thoroughly recommend it. We also had great fun playing with Jeff’s puppy dog - Lucca.
#StreetArtFestPhnomPenh We just had time for a quick cuppa back at our accommodation. Then we were off out for more art, this time at a Street Artfest I had read about, celebrating 55 years of diplomatic relations between Cambodia and Singapore. It was the final day of the Artfest’s week of art and music held at the WB centre, south of the city.
We wandered about the arena and found ourselves in the VIP area; we didn’t take advantage of the drinks on offer but enjoyed the front of stage location when the young singers/dancers started up performing. I think the young girl singer and her backing boy band were surprised to see Lindsey and I bopping in the front, surrounded by young, excitable Cambodian female fans! At one point she looked in our direction and sweetly bowed. It is the Cambodian way of respectfully greeting a person with hands together as in prayer, held at the face, called Sampeah, similar to the Thai Wai; both based on the Indian Añjali Mudrā used in namasté.
Finally, after eating, we found ourselves back near the stage. Most of the young people had left, but a few interesting characters remained, drinking with some dancing.
Suddenly across the dance floor came the whirling dervish Savary Chhem-Keith who promptly swept Lindsey off her feet! Savary told us that he was the father of the young talented Cambodian Artist and friend of Yip, Fonki.
One of the major contributors was a lovely Singaporean artist called Yip Yew Chong. Yip had spent most of his working life in finance but had always dabbled with painting since he was a child. Eventually, he gave up his corporate life and started creating huge murals (over 70), which are mostly in the Chinatown area of Singapore, his childhood home.
We hung out with dancing Savary, his son Fonki, Yip and their entourage of PR and event organisers and then an older female singer began to belt out some well-known western numbers, and we continued to dance the night away.
We looked a bit incongruous with our more colourful travellers’ clothes. Looking again at Savary, it’s probably why he made a beeline for Lindsey, recognising a kindred spirit! What a fabulous arty day in Phnom Penh.