Heading south on Norodom Boulevard, past the Monivong Bridge flyover, there’s a spot called Factory Phnom Penh – not to be confused with Friends International’s recently opened Futures Factory – a community centre that combines co-working spaces, business incubation, apartments, cafes and assorted amenities. It’s also the new home for KBach Gallery, founded in 2017 and formerly housed on St 178, an open ended arts business that seeks to make links between the traditional exhibition space and street art.
KBach Gallery – Kbach refers to traditional Cambodian ornamentation styles – will be holding an official grand re-opening party on Sunday from noon to 4 pm, that will include the launch of the KBach Arts Competition 2019. The competition, now in its second year, is an attempt to draw out hidden raw artistic talent in Cambodia – free canvases are offered to anyone who wishes to enter.
“Ideally Cambodians 16 to 20 years old, but it’s actually open to everyone, international and local,” says gallery director Shauna Mahony. “Talent is talent. We have seen young Vietnamese artists, we had some really good Filipino entries last year.”
The gallery spaces are set up to match the dynamics of the competition. From the wide open warehouse style atrium space, one enters through glass doors into a gallery displaying selected works by this year’s judges – paintings by Chhim Sothy and Chhan Dina and sculpture by Em Riem – which leads through to a room hanging works by last year’s entrants, then moving forward to the main gallery of works for sale, including pieces by last year’s winner and the 2019 judges.
The winner of the 2018 competition, Hour Soben, was awarded a contract with the gallery. “The runners up do still work with us anyway,” says Shauna. “We sold canvases for three of last year’s runners up, and we got two of them commissions. And we’ve got more contracts to award this year.” This year sees the introduction of a mentoring programme for entrants that will continue for the contract awardees. “So for example Em Riem is the sculpture judge, so he will be mentoring the sculptors,” explains Shauna. “The idea is that when people enter, they have a little bit more guidance than they did before, and then the winners will get to work with the judges as mentors.”
The 2019 competition broadens the entries by splitting into three categories: painting, sculpture and street art. Chhan Dina is already a veteran of judging panels, and brings her infectious enthusiasm to the task. “I really like to see the excitement of the young artists, they bring new ideas, new energy,” she says. “And also we can see the development – even if they don’t win the prize we can see how they are growing as an artist, thinking outside the box and everything.” She also welcomes the opening of the new gallery space. “It’s good to have more places for artists to have their work out in the public.”
In an effort to make a wider connection with the unlocked artistic forces within the country, the KBach is leaving Phnom Penh for a roadshow week traveling to Siem Reap, Kampot, and the thriving arts community in Battambang to distribute canvases.
Another string to the KBach bow is the AiR – Anyone in Residence – Project, where 12 workshop spaces are available for rental to, well, any artist. “Ideally an embassy will rent it on behalf of their own artist, in whatever medium, who takes on a Cambodian apprentice,” explains Shauna. “It starts by involving international embassies, or attracting international companies to artists in, and the plan is to have every single one of the 12 occupied and operated by the former apprentice within two years.”
The grand opening event this weekend will feature live painting (including your chance to be immortalised in paint on a wall in larger than life style by portrait artist Dev) live music by Gerard Evans, Marie Thach, Lisha and The Sound Initiative, a jumping castle and free workshops.