A pioneering Cambodian art festival gears up for its second installment
By Gemma Price
Early one November morning in 2011, 25 brightly garbed cyclists gathered outside Kinyei Café at the corner of Battambang’s Street 1.5 to give their lovingly decorated bikes the once over. A British couple made some final adjustments to their flower-strung, banana-yellow tandem. Gallery owner and artist Phin Sophorn entertained the goggle-eyed school children who had gathered around her bead-festooned bike frame. And Bo Rithy, then artist-in-residence at nearby Sammaki Gallery, tried to catch 40 winks over his handlebars, penance for the previous night’s reveling. The seashells adorning his hand-embellished bike and riding hat gleamed pearlescent in the early morning light.
The first-ever Angkor Art Explo, a trail-blazing, three-week contemporary art festival created by local and international artists, had kicked off one week earlier with a public party and a full week of performances, exhibitions, and screenings at venues throughout the riverside city of Battambang. Its mission, according to co-founder David “Jam” Ramjattan, was to “to bring Cambodian art back to its roots, the masses, and then the world.”
Now, everyone was gearing up for the ride of the year and an art journey in every sense of the word: a four-day, 175-kilometer tour from Battambang in Cambodia’s rural northwest to Siem Reap on “art bikes”—mobile bicycle installations that would transport the artists’ creativity beyond the studio and directly to the people.