Angkor Art Explo-sion

Rhi Quinn

For most tourists and locals, Angkor Wat is the symbol that springs to mind when they think of art. But Loven Ramos and his colleagues at the Angkor Art Explo have very different ideas for the future.

They believe that though “traditional art is established in Cambodia, it needs to be brought to the 21st century.”  It’s difficult not to be swept up by Ramos’ enthusiasm for Cambodia’s second Explo, which will surge into Siem Reap from Jan. 31 to Feb. 10.

Originally postponed due to the passing of King Father Norodom Sihanouk, the arts festival has been adapted to include a tribute to the late monarch. Artists will write their hopes for Cambodia on floating candles and let them set sail along the Siem Reap River in memory of him.

The festival will brim with exhibitions from photographers and sculptors from all over the world, with most being held at the 1961 Art Hotel. Tuk tuks are also getting decorated to make art more mobile. “If people can’t get to galleries, we can bring the gallery to them,” says Ramos.

In 2011, the theme of the festival was ‘art is a journey’. Now that journey is complete and the concept ‘art is forgiveness’ is the next rung on the creative ladder. This year’s events will include two bicycle rides by artists, one around Siem Reap in February and the other from Battambang to Pailin, one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, in December.

“We’re bringing art back to the place where artists being killed is associated,” says Ramos. In a country with such a turbulent past, the creators of Art Explo hope this gesture is a small step towards healing the cracks of Cambodia through creative means.

Another branch of the festivities, the Graffoetry Trail, will roll into Siem Reap on a wave of wonderful words on Feb. 3. One of the sponsors is the owner of local rooftop hangout X Bar, Carlo Tarabini, whose venue will host a performance by award-winning spoken word artist Kosal Khiev. X Bar is also one of many buildings around town that are donating wall space to be decorated with top class graffiti by local and visiting artists, providing a new platform for them to express their ingenuity on.

Tori Green, the co-organiser of Graffoetry, says, “My dream is to create a wall for a travelling performance project that will visit all 24 provinces… if someone can donate a bus we can customise, that would be a wonderful late Christmas gift.”

With so many opportunities coming up for people who are passionate about words, pictures and painting, you can see why Ramos is bubbling with excitement about what’s to come. “Light a match and the whole town catches fire,” he muses. We at AsiaLIFE are certainly looking forward to seeing the creative sparks fly.

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