Siem Reap – new art hub of Asia?

Cambodia Living Arts

By: Emily Martin

Siem Reap – new art hub of Asia?

Move over Ubud, Siem Reap is fast becoming an artist’s destination, and with such a large movement to re-connect with the arts following the Khmer Rouge it’s no mystery why.

During Pol Pot’s reign in the 70’s, Cambodia’s artistic culture was destroyed, 90% of its artists, musicians, dancers and intellectuals were killed. The country was left deep in poverty and many people still live with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to this day. However, the passion and light within the people of this kingdom is burning brighter than ever and a revival is moving swiftly.

Since the end of the regime huge efforts have been put in place to resurrect the arts in Cambodia. In Siem Reap places like The Cambodian Cultural Village offer a chance for visitors to see traditional performances, and view the art. Many NGO’S are also using these arts to educate children, and allow the culture to survive.

Cambodian Living Arts is just one of these places. Based in Phnom Penh they are about to start performing in Siem Reap soon, as the arts scene here expands. Their mission is to “facilitate the transformation of Cambodia through the arts… in doing so, we aim to create value and understanding of what it means to be Cambodian and to create a sense of unity and shared culture.” The shows connect visitors with Cambodia’s rich heritage through shadow puppetry and traditional music – dating back to the 8th century.

However, it’s not just the classical Cambodian dance and music that is being reintroduced. There’s a large movement growing towards other, more contemporary, practices.

Siem Reap is truly at the forefront of this with many galleries and social enterprises being founded, focusing on more universal disciplines like contemporary art and circus skills like at Phare.

The 1961 is just one of the many galleries popping up around town. It’s also a co-working and creative space where groups of freelancers, entrepreneurs and artists can work together. Its gallery hosts shows and exhibitions by local and international artists.

Art comes from ones perspective, with powerful images and performances usually resonating the artist’s own lived experiences. For Cambodians their stories are raw and they are real. Corruption, poverty, resilience, love and beliefs are strongly intertwined in Cambodian life. Artists here have their own unique perspective on the world and many have lived through incredible hardship. Art is often a way for them to express this, and even escape their worries or fears.

Because of this, their art has huge impact. It inspires.

Many international artists are also seeking Siem Reap as a destination for solace and inspiration for themselves. The city is vibrant, busy, chic and the resilience of Cambodians is truly apparent. The countryside around the centre offers a more relaxed scene with small rural villages and a slow pace of life.

Of course you can also experience Cambodian stories told in a unique way by visiting Phare – The Cambodian Circus on your next trip to Siem Reap.

Do you know of any fantastic arts organisations or movements in Siem Reap or Cambodia? We’d love to hear your experiences! Please leave a comment below.

Read more about our social missions, that includes providing gainful employment for Phare artists and financially supporting the school where they train: Social Mission

Book your reservations online for Phare, the Cambodian Circus at Reservations & Ticketing.

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