Urban Visions

A mural of a futuristic cityscape stands next to an architectural model as an animation plays in the background.

“Open City, Open Mind”—The Asia Foundation Community Art Gallery’s second exhibition—opened on Wednesday, showcasing imaginative explorations of what Phnom Penh could, one day, look like.

An architectural model by Pum Davit in front of a mural by Voung Chansi (Aria Danaparamita/The Cambodia Daily)
An architectural model by Pum Davit in front of a mural by Voung Chansi (Aria Danaparamita/The Cambodia Daily)

The exhibit followed the gallery’s inaugural show, “Phnom Penh: City of Grids,” a contemporary art reflection on the current state of the city. This time, the group exhibition looks toward the future.

Curator Khiang Hei gathered six artists and an architect, as well as a writer, to create an eclectic collection of etchings, maps, paintings and film.

“This exhibition is more of a vision,” Mr. Hei said. “Each person has their own idea: ‘Open City, Open Mind,’ meaning what kind of city would you like to see?”

Architect Pum Davit joins visual artists Voung Chansi, Prom Putvisal, Phe Sophon and Heng Gechseang, as well as animators Poy Chhunly and Koeurm Kolab. Writer Kim Philley also contributed a fiction piece.

The contributors interpreted the theme of urban planning in varied ways.

Mr. Davit, a 24-year-old architecture graduate of the Royal University of Fine Arts, crafted a model of Boeng Pong Peay, a lake in the northern outskirts of Phnom Penh that has been filled in for development projects.

Made with colored sand, papier-mache and plaster, the model shows his alternative design: one built around the lake rather than in place of it.

“We want to combine nature with our lives,” he said.

The ‘Open City, Open Mind’ exhibit at The Asia Foundation (Aria Danaparamita/The Cambodia Daily)
The ‘Open City, Open Mind’ exhibit at The Asia Foundation (Aria Danaparamita/The Cambodia Daily)

Other artists took a different creative approach, like Mr. Chansi, who unleashed his colorful swirls in a whimsical mural of a modern city on a moveable partition in the gallery.

The aim of the show is to engage a conversation on the direction of development in Phnom Penh.

“Now, they think about the economy more than quality of life, so the growth isn’t following any plan,” Mr. Davit said of the city’s booming development. “For the construction, there is no standard, such as dividing residential, business and administrative zones.”

The exhibit’s concern for urban planning is linked to The Asia Foundation’s other projects, in particular their program on waste management with City Hall and garbage collection firm Cintri.

“When we started getting into it, the broader question emerged, which was what makes Phnom Penh a livable city,” said the foundation’s country representative Silas Everett.

That question spurred the opening of the gallery space in November.

“This gallery is more of a place for conversation,” Mr. Hei said. “We want communities to get involved and to participate in it so it’s very essential that the community can come and see and ask questions and be curious about it.”

And Mr. Everett says he hopes the gallery, and future exhibits, can continue to serve as a communal space.

“That really means people who live in the city having ideas about what they want the city to look like and being able to express and talk and share those ideas with others,” Mr. Everett said.

(Additional reporting by Ben Sokhean)

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