Cambodian artists say they owe a debt of gratitude to Dana Langlois and her Java Gallery and Cafe, which marks its 10th anniversary on Saturday.
Langlois, an American, opened her cafe, near Independence Monument, in 2000, creating a space for Cambodian artists to display their work and encouraging the growth of the arts, which were devastated under the Khmer Rouge.
“The dozens of young Cambodian artists who have exhibited at Java have played significant roles in the Cambodian art scene,” Langlois said in an interview.
Artists who have shown their work at Java have pursued subjects like culture, conservation, the environment and the daily lives of other Cambodians.
At least 20 different Cambodians have shown their work at the gallery. Chath Piersath, a painter, said Langlois was the “first foreigner” to concern herself with Cambodian art.
Leang Seckon, a painter, said Langlois had helped Cambodian art reach foreigners and encouraged younger artists to pursue more works.
“Java is a center for training professionalism in art and for counseling the establishment, innovation and exhibition of new works of art,” he said. It has also provided a venue for Cambodian artists to study works “from many countries,” he said.
“At this time, foreigners have come to see the development of Cambodian works of art, which began to rise up after the war,” he said.
Leang Seckon has shown 100 different works at the gallery over the past 10 years, fetching tens of thousands of dollars.
“I developed into a well-known artist in Cambodia and now I’ve become an internationally recognized painter,” he said. “I’m very happy for the art works that I have learned from paintings of different countries at Java, such as the United States, France and the United Kingdom.”
Oeur Sokuntevy, perhaps Cambodia’s best-known female artist, said Java helped artists train and develop.
“Ms. Dana has helped counsel Cambodian artists in painting and promoted their knowledge, understanding and wisdom of the Cambodian artists,” Oeur Sokuntevy said. “I have more understanding of technical painting, and the reason is the establishment of my art works at Java.”
So far, Oeur Sokuntevy has shown 55 works of art at Java, including paintings and sculpture, with price tags between $400 and $500. But it’s not about the money, she says.
“We do not hope to sell the paintings,” she said. “We show our art works, and we want our work recognized by the international community. It doesn’t mean that we just sell our work.”
While some work brings high prices, “for the artists, they think that they do not need the money, but they think of producing new innovations and strangeness in their works.”