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Art as Spatial Resistance in Phnom Penh, Cambodia: the production of emotional belonging in the White Building

conference contribution
posted on 2017-09-17, 00:00 authored by Martin PotterMartin Potter, Jonathon Louth
The White Building in central Phnom Penh was built in 1963 as part of a modernist vision of social housing for artists and performers. Following the trauma of the Khmer Rouge, where the city was emptied and an estimated ninety percent of Cambodia's artists were killed, the intervening Vietnamese-backed government sought to repopulate the building with an invitation to surviving artists to return. In recent years, largely due to government neglect, the building has fallen into disrepair. Many residents within the building are still artists and performers, but the community is often disparaged by government and segments of the press as a slum populated by criminals and sex workers. Since the mid-2000s, the building has been under constant threat of demolition by developers backed by the Cambodian government, replicating similar land-grabbing episodes that have occurred across the city as part of a violent neoliberal spatial reckoning.

Within this context, we utilise a Lefebvrian lens to chart the history of the Building from the late 1950s, before focusing on art and storytelling programs from 2008 to the present. We trace the upsurge in artistic endeavours within the building and how they have become a way of articulating pluralistic modes of struggle for a diverse range of residents. With access to documentary footage of residents within the Building, shot by members of a White Building collective, we explore the emotional sense of belonging and emergent forms of resistance co-constituted by their connection to this urban space and surrounding street life. From this perspective, we argue that the dominant discursive acts of the more powerful can and have been challenged through the expression of the 'lived' and the elevation of everyday life. Furthermore, we argue that the very perception of space and the sense of emotional belonging that occurs within it can and has been (re)produced through these alternative interactions.



Mapping the Emotional Cityscape. Symposium (2017 : Adelaide, South Australia)


ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions and The University of Adelaide School of Architecture and Built Environment.


Adelaide, South Australia

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[Adelaide, S.Aust)

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EN Other conference paper



Title of proceedings

Mapping the Emotional Cityscape Symposium: Spaces, performances and emotion in everyday life

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