Established by Dana Langlois in 2000, the Java Café & Gallery Phnom Penh is a combination café and gallery. It supports the growth of a “dynamic” art scene in Cambodia. In 2000 there wasn’t much happening in contemporary visual arts and Java gave artists an opportunity to exhibit and sell their work to people who frequented the café. Since then, Java Café & Gallery has hosted over 90 exhibitions and artist presentations, international exchange projects, forums, and local artist collaborations.
“The gallery brought international attention to the work of Cambodian artists, helping renowned creators such as Leang Seckon, Pich Sopheap, Oeur Sokuntevy, Chath pierSath, and Meas Sokhorn become known to the public at large.”
Until 2008, the gallery was non-profit and supported exhibitions and projects entirely by its own funds. As the art scene developed, JavaArts promoted “sustainability through developing a practical commercial sector, generating funds from sales which in part go into community projects or sponsorship of artist initiatives”.
“Cambodia has a long history of art dating back to the rich Angkorian period. While renowned for its monumental history, there is tremendous creativity in contemporary Cambodia. In the 1960s, Cambodian art went through a revival and had a thriving arts environment. HRH King Sihanouk was a leading force for the country through his love for cinema and music.
The Khmer Rouge regime put an end to creative freedom when they killed an estimated 90% of the artists or forced them into exile. Since the 1980s the Cambodian art scene slowly revived. Initially the focus was on rebuilding the traditional arts (dance, music, and sculpture). Most efforts and funding went into supporting Cambodia’s quest for identity. Some individual artists (Svay Ken, Vann Nath), usually self-taught, soon broke from traditional forms of expression and gave a more contemporary dynamic to arts. A younger generation inspired by these masters slowly emerged (Sophannarith, Chhim Sothy, Hen Sophal).
The Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) features more contemporary elements in their programs including photography, interior design, and modern architecture. Other alternatives include the French Cultural Center (CCF), which supports French and Khmer artists and Reyum Gallery, an Art School whose main focus has been on research and preservation of Cambodian arts and teaching arts to young children.
Recently, young Cambodian artists returned from abroad (Pich Sopheap, Chath pierSath) and have provided examples of a more expressive approach to contemporary art. Other local artists like Leang Seckon and Mak Remissa opened the way to new art concepts. This new generation, with diverse educations and influences, is finding its voice and sparking new interest in contemporary art in Cambodia.”
Dana Langlois, the founder of Java Café & Gallery is an “art-preneur” and curator based in Phnom Penh since 1998. By opening one of the first contemporary art galleries in the capital city she helped re-launch a dynamic art scene in Cambodia – a country devastated by war and political instability.
Dana contributed significantly to the recent emergence of the Cambodian contemporary art scene by supporting local artists and initiating projects through JavaArts. Currently, working with local artists and institutions, Dana seeks ways to develop public art installations, encourage community participation, and promote sustainability through the development a viable commercial sector.