Spaces for earnest conversation and connection in the arts are vital but frequently lacking in communities – especially in Cambodia. Libraries and reading rooms that have collections of books that can truly open eyes and minds are even harder to find here. We all know why… but one woman is determined to do what she can to change that in Phenom Phen.
Her name is Meta Moeng. I have not met her yet but I have had her described by many. These friends all speak reverentially of Ms. Moeng. She is a good curator, they say. She knows that Cambodia cannot emerge strong without curation of the arts and disciplined thinking, they say. She is unassuming, not a bone in her body speaks of ego, they say. She is needed, they say. She’s real, they say. You can trust her, they say. She understands us, they say.
Meta Moeng has contributed in three essential ways. She is actively practicing the art of curation – something very lacking in our nation when understandably few artists even know the word or what it entails in practice. Secondly, she created a space for artists to learn from each other and share the potentials that are possible in the arts. Thirdly she has created a reading and resource room where quality books abound in an inviting atmosphere for researchers, the public, and artists alike.
These are no small tasks – they are the tasks of creating culture.
Moeng does not have a formal education in art history and critical theory but she is grounded in Cambodia’s art scene and is keen on their local needs. In 2015 she leaped into curation by being a member of the first group of fellows chosen to study for a year in the prestigious Cambodian Living Arts Fellowship, which takes arts professionals around Cambodia and abroad to learn best practices and theories for supporting art and culture. She has since been awarded admission into the Curators Academy in Singapore. Her strongest mission seems to be to ensure that younger Khmer artists are provided with as many entryways and skills to participate in contemporary Cambodian culture, despite the lacking of government programs or funding. Working in a void, she is creating gateways for artists across the country.
On her sparse yet elegant website, Meta Moeng describes her gathering space with these words:
កន្លែងខ្ញុំ – Kon Len Khnhom (meaning “my place”) is an independent art space dedicated to building audiences and networking. It’s a place for art students, independent artists, curators, and researchers looking for an inspiring space to network and work on their individual projects either short or long term. We aim to connect, share ideas, and facilitate artistic knowledge between visiting artists, curators, and researchers. We also offer three residency programs: student-in-residence for Cambodia art students, as well as creative-in-residence and young artist-in-residence. កន្លែងខ្ញុំ – was founded in February 2017 by independent arts manager, Meta Moeng, and is located near the historic Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, known as S21, in Phnom Penh city, Cambodia.
Our slogan: “My home is yours”.
For more details: www.konlenkhnhom.com
Meta Moeng’s newest space opened in 2019. This is her description:
Dambaul (meaning “Rooftop”) is an arts resource home – a reading room, an art archive, and a space for the sharing of knowledge – for curious and passionate minds. It was founded in 2019 in response to the needs of the local arts community. We are actively building our collection of international art and culture-related books, with a focus on Southeast Asia. Donations are welcome.
While we grow our collection by new donations, the core of the collection will be based on around 100 permanent donations from the former SA SA BASSAC Reading Room, and a loan of over 500 books from the personal collection of Erin Gleeson. Our collection also boasts over 250 books generously donated by the National Gallery Singapore Resource Centre in 2019.
Dambaul has already been well used by Sopanha Kham for a short residency program from May 6 – June 30, 2019. Sophanha Kham is interested in spatial artistry and speculative design for the future.
Emily Howe enjoyed a long residency program from May 6 – August 31, 2019. Emily Howe and Neak Sophal impressively collaborated on សូរស្ត្រី | Her Sounds – a project aiming to understand the lives of women by collecting oral histories and oral culture including songs, dances, stories, and poems by and about women. សូរស្ត្រី | Her Sounds exhibition is presently at Mirage Contemporary Art Space.