Phnom Penh is making a name for itself as an emerging hub for contemporary arts in Southeast Asia, and the scene is benefitting from the surge of creative talents calling Cambodia home.
Despite being buoyed by this steady stream of artists from across the globe, the scene is undeniably still at its formative stages as artists from all genres still find it hard to sustain themselves through their vocation.
There are further constraints relating to exhibition spaces, which is surprising considering the amount of art shows held nightly in various venues across the city. But these constraints have not stopped artists from coming in and making Cambodia their base. In fact, they have driven creative talents to explore different tools and techniques to broaden their scope.
“Make no mistake, there are spaces for artists to showcase their work in Phnom Penh,” said Valentin Walker, also known under the pseudonym Alias 2.0. “But different projects have different requirements, and there is a rising demand to increase the variety of spaces that can be used for performances and/or exhibitions.”
Walker, who had already begun to make a name for himself in France as a muralist, is a member of this growing community that feels the lack of variety is creating an artificial constraint that undermines the vibrant energy of the city.
“Phnom Penh has a different energy to it,” he continued. “To an artist it provides a different canvas, a different backdrop altogether – there’s an extra stimuli for the senses that allows artistic communities to flourish in their various shapes and forms.
“Unlike in other more established art hubs in the region, people have yet to find it a part of their social life to go out and experience art,” said Walker. “As a result, there is a degree of resistance, so to speak – Cambodians are generally less likely to volunteer their private spaces for such purposes, which forces artists to rethink their approaches to get their works showcased.”
The move has driven Walker to expand his form of expression beyond paint on concrete walls – a muralist’s usual weapon of choice. Instead of walls, he opts to use the country’s cityscapes as his canvas, and as a substitute for his paint, Valentin uses LED lights combined with a camera. This is Walker’s way of finding a compromise between the familiarity of the techniques that he is used to as a muralist, with the lack of spaces that he could use to express himself as an artist.
Using the aid of modern photography, Walker recreates patterns that are juxtaposed on the walls that he wouldn’t be able to otherwise legally access.
Such an approach allows him to contrast the old and the new on a neutral ‘canvas’ as his work is based on a photographic recreation of a subject and not the subject itself.
Walker’s work is rather important in a fledgling scene that is still heavily reliant on the goodwill of the community, as support from the government remains limited both in terms of financial support, or other auxiliary support. It proves that by thinking further outside the box, artists can overcome these obstacles, and even flourish within society’s boundaries.
“The lack of physical space does not necessary translate to a parallel absence of creative space,” said Walker.
While this could be discouraging to emerging artists, Walker believes that this should be taken up as a challenge among artists, which could lead to the emergence of new forms of expression that are not only reflective of the way a particular artist feels about a subject, but also the challenges they face in their immediate reality. After all, isn’t this the very essence of contemporary art – an abstraction of a particular perspective?
“Yes, it is an uphill battle for artists in Cambodia, but this should not discourage young artists to explore their passion, whilst trying to make a living from said passion,” concluded Valentin. “Art is a way of life that we have chosen for ourselves, so what we have to do is to make sure that art can live on, no matter what the limitations may be.”