A Guide to Art and Culture in Battambang
June 16, 2019
by Delilah Kealy Roberts
The beautiful and historic country that is Cambodia undoubtedly has a LOT to offer to travellers. History buffs and adventure seekers alike could be entertained for weeks roaming around this stimulating country. From the bright lights and nightlife of Phnom Penh to the devastating site of the killing fields, from the tranquil beaches of Koh Rong to the breath-taking word heritage site Angkor Wat, there really is something for every type of holidaymaker. However, there is one more essential piece to the Cambodian puzzle: Battambang.
Sometimes forgotten by tourists on a time limit, Battambang is a sleepy French colonial town in the North East of Cambodia. Although Battambang is quiet at first glance, if you dig a bit deeper you’ll discover an emerging art scene unlike anywhere else in the country. As artists and intellectuals were amongst those targeted during the Khmer Rouge regime (1975-1979) Cambodia’s art scene has been severely disadvantaged (an estimated 90% of Cambodia’s artists were killed) and has used recent years to rebuild itself. Since being dubbed as a hub for contemporary art, Battambang is an astonishing example of how the contemporary art scene has stoically resurrected itself. Consisting of quaint streets peppered with artistic enterprises, Battambang is unmissable for anyone with an eye for contemporary art, and these galleries are a great place for you to start…
Located across the Sangkae river to the East of the city, Romcheik5 is nestled away in a seemingly residential area and a little difficult to find. When you do find it however, it is well worth the effort. Opened in 2012 by a group of four artists, the gallery has since endeavoured to showcase the best of the local talent that Battambang has to offer. It houses a permanent exhibition on its upper floors named ‘Made in Battambang’, which features 25 artists from the local area. Meanwhile, the downstairs area rotates between exhibitions giving great variation and a wonderful insight into the local scene.
Loeum Lorn Gallery
This quaint gallery is located in the centre of Battambang, down one of many parallel streets serving copious amounts of tasty food, coffee, and (you guessed it) art. Much smaller than Romcheik5, this gallery showcases just one artist’s work. Loeum Lorn is an artist from Battambang who studied his craft locally. His art draws upon the ideas of Vipassana meditation and consists largely of mesmerising photography created by dropping colour on ice.
Phare Ponleu Selpak
The piece-de-resistance of the Battambang art scene is undoubtedly Phare Ponleu Selpak. This social enterprise circus is simply a place like no other. With an emphasis on both performance and teaching, this NGO is most likely the main catalyst by Battambang’s thriving talent. Since the idea was conceived in 1986, the team behind Phare Ponleu Selpak have aimed to tackle poverty and other social issues faced by young people in Battambang through the power of the arts. Through charitable funding (raised largely through its performances) it gives young people the opportunity to learn visual and performance arts free of charge. As well as being an incredible social initiative, it is also a great spot for tourists wanting to soak up some culture while participating in a great cause. Drop by one evening and see one of their spectacular circus performances (which are on every night) and while you’re there you’ll find exhibitions, murals, and a gift shop all created by the young aspiring artists.