Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Refreshed art space resets its approach

Refreshed art space resets its approach

Khchao Touch, artist and sculptor, with one of her finely detailed works at Lotus Gallery.
Khchao Touch, artist and sculptor, with one of her finely detailed works at Lotus Gallery. Athena Zelandonii

Refreshed art space resets its approach

The recently reopened Lotus Gallery, located on Battambang’s Street 2.5 near Phsar Nath Market, doesn’t look much different from the space that owner Darren Swallow temporarily closed six months ago.

The three-storey converted shophouse still has an airy feel and plenty of wall space, but there’s been a shift in concept, he says – one that could be indicative of fracturing support for and from the independent arts community in Battambang, once considered to be Cambodia’s cultural capital.

To start, there’s no plan for regularly rotating exhibitions.

“Before, it was quite difficult to keep up the quality of the work,” he says. “What tends to happen [in Battambang] is you get one or two good pieces and then some filler. And there are only a few artists I know who can fill an exhibition with good-quality work. So for now, I’ll focus on quality over quantity.”

For the first long-term exhibition, which opened last month with the gallery itself, the curator has chosen a couple of pieces by British artist Nicolas Grey and a handful by Swallow’s wife, the painter and sculptor Khchao Touch, who was born in Battambang and trained and later taught at Phare Ponleu Selpak.

Most of her works are incredibly detailed: earlier oil paintings on display feature tiny strokes made with a bamboo tip; her intricate watercolours focus on exploring the natural elements and female forms. Touch is inspired by flowers in particular, and some of her more minimalist works resemble a Khmer take on American artist Georgia O’Keeffe.

“They stand in the sun all day, and then they die in the ground,” Touch says. “I do my paintings to remind myself to try to find the freedom to be alive. I want my daughter to be free like that.”

For a few years, Touch – once labelled one of Cambodia’s “leading women artists” – has been on something of a hiatus. Much of her work completed over the past year has emerged from the family’s experience with the couple’s daughter, who was receiving medical treatment in Bangkok. Touch is bright-eyed, and asks a lot of questions – many of which end up as titles for her works (Where Are We Going?, for example, a family portrait).

Touch’s early paintings feature abstract natural forms.
Touch’s early paintings feature abstract natural forms. Athena Zelandonii

Before stepping out of Battambang, Swallow was a co-founder of Sammaki Gallery, which closed in March after nearly five years. (He opened Lotus Gallery as a “small, funky arts venue” in 2013.) Sammaki was a bold experiment in an uncertain field: a space that after last year operated with no private funding, and where sometimes inexperienced artists took full creative control of their exhibitions.

“Once I had to leave for Bangkok, nobody tried to find funds or anything. Once the money ran out, they had to close,” Swallow says. “The idea was always that artists would take the initiative, find funding and run it as their own space – it never really happened.”

That’s not to say the community is in decline. Two shining spots include Sangker Gallery, which – unlike Sammaki – is privately funded, and the Romcheik 5 gallery, which displays the works of the eponymous collective whose members live in an artists’ commune outside town and produce a prodigious amount of original work.

But for now, Lotus Gallery will stick to its slow approach, as well as a café downstairs focused on health and vitality. “It’s something different for Battambang anyway,” Swallow says.

Upstairs in the gallery, Touch pulls out a piece she’s been working on for two months. It features a grand flower, tendrils carefully sketched out in every direction.

“When I paint this painting, I don’t know when to finish,” she says, laughing. “It needs a little bit of blue. With blue, there is freedom. I need to find a little bit of freedom in here.”

Lotus Gallery is located at #53 Street 2.5 in Battambang.

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and

  • Thai boxers to join SEA Games’ Kun Khmer event

    The Cambodian SEA Games Organising Committee (CAMSOC) – together with the Kun Khmer International Federation (KKIF) and Khmer Boxing Federation – have achieved a “great success” by including Kun Khmer in the upcoming biennial multi-sports event on its home soil for the first time, said a senior