CAMBODIAN EMERGING ARTISTS ARTIST-RUN SPACES PHOTOGRPAHY
In 2009, a group of artists and photographers called Stiev Selapak founded Sa Sa Art Gallery, Cambodia’s first artist-run gallery. The programming focuses on emerging Cambodian contemporary artists.With the idea of wanting to promote the Cambodian contemporary art by supporting emerging Cambodian artists, Stiev Selapak started a new non-commercial initiative in early 2010, the Sa Sa Art Project.
Art Radar Asia spoke with Vuth Lyno, manager of Sa Sa Art Gallery, to find out more about this remarkable and influential group, gallery and project.
Stiev Selapak formed to share ideas
Artist group Stiev Selapak was formed by six Cambodian artists and photographers in 2007, after meeting at a photography workshop. The ideal behind the group is to share, to communicate and to learn together. Three of the members graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts and the other members came from various backgrounds.
Vuth Lyno, Sa Sa Art Gallery’s manager, for example, began his career in the arts as an information technology and communications specialist. In his work, he was required to take photographs for promotional communications which lead to a desire to explore artistic photography.
“Later on I realised that photography is not just about taking photos of happy people. I wanted to show real lives of people. For me that was the entry point.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.
Each of the members implement their projects individually, but also work together. As Lyno elaborates: “Sometimes we would go out, take photos and document, review and show them to each other, comment and share what could be improved in a way where we could reflect [on] our personal inner perspectives.”
Sa Sa Art Gallery is founded
Stiev Selapak opened Sa Sa Art Gallery in early 2009. Significantly, Sa Sa is an abbreviation of Stiev Salapak, who are also known as the Art Rebels. For the group, the name Art Rebels did not find meaning in rebelling, but saw it more as wanting to do something new. “We want to introduce contemporary photography to people here and promote it to a wider audience,” Lyno divulges.
In the beginning, the group wanted to find a space which they could work in. Having some support, they could start having exhibitions. Mostly these events showcased photographic works, but the group soon realised that it was not only about Stiev Selapak, it was also about Cambodian artists and Cambodian contemporary photography.
“I believe that we contribute to the local art scene. When we had finished our creation of Sa Sa [Art Gallery] we had attended a one year photography workshop; we had group exhibitions together from all the students graduating from the class. That for me was the big step into the scene, when we look at it from the contemporary photography side.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.
In Cambodia, most of the galleries are foreign-owned. Being artists themselves, the members of Stiev Selapak felt that Cambodian artists did not have a productive and equal relationship with these galleries. They commonly felt they needed a space that was Cambodian-owned, independent and that helped other artists.
Creating the gallery, the founders did not only exhibit their own works, but also work from other local artist groups. Though the size of the gallery is limited, they can still present and sell a decent-sized body of work. ”It’s a matter of how we can present that. So far we’ve exhibited a lot of photography, but we also show paintings and drawings,” Lyno elaborates.
Sa Sa Art Project – a haven for experimental art practice
Earlier this year, Stiev Selapak founded a non-commercial initiative called the Sa Sa Art Project. This project is dedicated to experimental art practice and can accommodate installation art, residencies, meetings, and classes. The main goal is simple – to create opportunities for young artists to realise new ideas, to share their experiences and knowledge, as well as to educate the next generation about art.
One of the main activities of the project is inviting new and emerging artists to live and work at the Sa Sa Art Project’s space. Here they can experiment with new ideas free of any of the limitations normally encountered in commercial galleries. Each residency ends with a short exhibition. One drawing class every week is also held under the project which caters to students and local artists.
Both the Sa Sa Art Galleryand the Sa Sa Art projectwere created and founded by Stiev Selapak, but what sets them apart from each other is that the gallery is operating commercially, hosting artist talks and welcoming students. The gallery focuses on showcasing emerging Cambodian contemporary artists’ bodies of work. The art project’s aim is to foster a community of knowledge sharing among artists. It tries to create opportunities for new artists, but also works as an educational program.
Funding and support in the Cambodian art industry
Finding spaces for the gallery and the project was easy, but the more challenging task was finding sustainable funding. In early March this year, Stiev Selapakorganised a fundraiser so that they could continue with the programming of the gallery and to expand activities for the art project. Though they sometimes depend on the support from the public, most of the time the founders fund the gallery themselves. Since it is run with minimal funding and minimal resources, their communication and marketing are limited as well.
At the moment, the Sa Sa Art Gallerydoesn’t operate on the same scale as other galleries in Cambodia, who represent a number of artists. Sa Sa is limited to representing the founders of Stiev Selapak and a few other artists they have close relationships with. One of the founders, internationally-known artist Vandy Rattana, is one of the more exposed artists in the group, exhibiting his works in Asia and in the U.S.
“We have a new wave of artists and photographers coming now, continuing their practices in contemporary photography.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.
One big difference in the Cambodian art scene is that ten years ago there were maybe a couple of contemporary art galleries, a number which has increased significantly over the past few years. Having the experience of creating and starting a gallery, Lyno’s advice would be to consider the idea carefully.
“Putting on an exhibition might not generate enough funds to continue running the gallery. Those who wish to start thinking of opening a gallery need to consider it carefully in terms of marketing [and] connections with buyers and collectors. These approaches have been adopted by many other galleries in town already. There are many gallery/restaurant/café [establishments]. My approach when I mean art gallery, [I mean] a clean gallery where they can appreciate the art.”
Neighbouring countries are more established and more systematic in terms of the development of their arts industries. The founders of Stiev Salapak believe that artists should make an effort to engage with each other in order to learn more. As there is almost no support from the government for the art in Cambodia, artists need to make the effort to create opportunities for themselves in the Southeast Asian region as well as in Cambodia itself. In saying this, although the art scene in Cambodia is relatively new, there has been a significant advancement in recent years.
The main goal for Stiev Salapak has always been to promote Cambodian contemporary art and by doing that, they support emerging artists. As Lyno states, this original idea has not changed. It has evolved into something bigger, meaning that the idea has evolved into something that can now accommodate and support Cambodian artists adequately.
“When we started as a group, we thought we wanted to create a new way of contemporary photographing and to support that we needed a space. Later on we realised it was not about our group, but about Cambodian artists, new emerging artists, the Cambodian contemporary art scene and [making a contribution] to the art scene. We also wanted to welcome other artists. That’s why we created the art project, so we can engage more emerging artist to realise their ideas; to create opportunities for them to experiment [with] their new ideas without any limitations.” Vuth Lyno, speaking with Art Radar Asia.
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