Destination Inspiration: Siem Reap, Cambodia

Most tourists are here to visit Angkor Wat, the extraordinary temple complex enfolded in the jungle, but Siem Reap is becoming increasingly renowned for its contemporary art. Hanley takes me to meet Nou Sary, who paints impressionistic canvases recalling his early life. He worked in the rice paddies until he was 12 years old, then walked to Phnom Penh in search of an education.

A security guard during the day, Sary enrolled in night classes at the University of Fine Arts and, together with other students without lodgings, slept in the classrooms. He drew postcards and sold them to tourists for £ 1 so that he could afford to eat.

“Art is a tool that can change a person and can bring you very far. It’s a freedom,” says Svay Sareth, as he and Yim Maline, his wife, both artists, show me around their extraordinary studio and workshop-filled house, which they’re turning into an art school. Sareth, whose works can be seen in museums from New York to Singapore, discovered art as an escape, aged 7, at Site Two refugee camp. In one of his most renowned works, Mon Boulet, he pulled an 80kg, 2m-wide metal ball 250km from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh. To him it signified Cambodian history, “like a ball and chain”.


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