Navigating labyrinthine alleyways, I arrive at what appears to be a cosy, welcoming home at the heart of a cluster of buildings in Phnom Penh. Plants enliven a yard that leads to an open-air room featuring a selection of books, a small pantry and a bathroom. This humble abode is Kon Len Khnhom, a community arts space founded by independent arts manager Meta Moeng in February 2017. Like myself, first-time visitors to the space are likely to be embraced with a kindred sense of warmth and sincerity.
Kon Len Khnhom means ‘my place’ and, appropriately, its slogan is: ‘My home is yours.’ Kon Len Khnhom belongs to the people who utilize it, aiming to provide a nurturing, unpretentious platform for community building and horizontal modes of information-sharing. To that end, it offers three different residency programmes respectively for Cambodian architecture and art students, and local and international creatives.
Creatives-in-residence can also present their work in the space. On view until the end of December were Cambodian artist-illustrator Chhum Limhay’s paper sculptures – the artist’s attempts to re-conceptualize and represent the complexity of Phnom Penh’s architecture. The sculptures begin as drawings in pencil and fine markers on paper, and are subsequently moulded into three-dimensional sculptures. Usually working in drawing, Chhum decided to experiment with dimensionality at Moeng’s suggestion, thus adding new elements to his artistic practice.
Kon Lem Khnhom has also hosted a wide array of local cultural producers, to different ends. These include writers, fashion designers and online content producers, who may use the space to prepare for elaborate projects, to network, do research or conduct public events. Moeng often hears from the grapevine that people from various cultural sectors have gone on to become friends or collaborators after serendipitously meeting at events held at her space. Kon Len Khnhom’s diverse audience and widespread network reflect Moeng’s philosophy of unconditional generosity.
Admirably steadfast in her ethos, Moeng herself is as unpretentious as Kon Len Khnhom. Quietly and selflessly funding the space through her independent work, Moeng asks nothing of her participants but that they make meaningful use of the platform. Although she hands out keys to everyone who uses the space, she does not believe in being present to monitor all activities; instead, she operates on the belief that those involved will take care of the space. Should someone abscond with a key or items, Moeng opines that, unlike trust, material things can be replaced.
Moeng is firm in her commitment to establishing an ‘invisible infrastructure’ of support for the local arts scene. To that end, Moeng and other Cambodian arts practitioners and spaces, including Sa Sa Art Projects and Java Creative Café, frequently collaborate and offer mutual assistance. Most recently, Moeng has been working with the latter space as the curator of ‘Creative Generation’, a project that aims to provide young Cambodian artists with their first solo exhibition. Taking a practical approach to providing opportunities, Kon Len Khnhom and its understated founder carve out a space of experimentation and development for interdisciplinary artistic practices.
Kon Len Khnhom is a project space in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Main image: Kon Len Khnhom, My Place, 2018