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Travel Report: Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

Tribe Art Gallery Siem Reap.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

June 2020.

I always enjoyed the flourishes of street art peppered around Siem Reap’s trendy Kandal Village. Each time we came here, usually for coffee at The Little Red Fox, sometimes for breakfast at Ivy Guesthouse, Sladja and I would notice something new.

Eventually, an almost shameful six months into our Siem Reap adventure, we did some digging on who created the neighbourhood’s charming murals. The answers to our questions came one sunny morning at Tribe Art Gallery.

Tribe Art Gallery Siem Reap Cambodia.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

Our host that day was Terry McIlkenny, who co-founded this tiny gallery with his partner Nat-Di Maggio in December 2018. Both have been art lovers, collectors and occasional curators for years.

While incredibly passionate about London’s urban street art, they nevertheless found themselves desperate to escape the city every year. “Bloody English winters!” laughed Terry. As a Londoner myself, there was no need for Terry to elaborate.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

Tribe Art Gallery.

Annual holidays to Cambodia finally led Terry and Nat to set up shop in Siem Reap. While the gallery itself is small in size, there’s nothing modest about the scale of their ambitions. First, they dedicate themselves to supporting and nurturing local artists. Secondly, they continue to share their love for London street art through regular exhibitions and events.

Kak Sok Phirom Cambodian photographer.

Mr. Kak Sok Phirom

As fate would have it, one of Tribe’s local success stories was hanging out in the gallery during our visit. Thus Terry introduced us to the incredibly talented photographer, Kak Sok Phirom. Softly spoken and a touch shy, Phirom says he owes everything to Terry and Nat. “They gave me confidence and convinced me I am talented”, he says.

Kak Sok Phirom photography Tribe Art Gallery Siem Reap.

One Day One Way, an exhibition by Kak Sok Phirom.

Neatly arranged across one of Tribe’s main walls, Sladja and I took a look at his arresting exhibition One Day One Way. The photos document Phirom’s inspirational journey travelling Cambodia’s Northern Rail line in 2018. Along the way, he stopped at Sisophon, Battambang, Pursat and Kompong Chhnan to meet the locals, hear their stories and take their photos.

“For me the train is like life. Sometimes busy and full of laughter. Suddenly, it can be empty and you find yourself all alone. Wait long enough and you’ll find new experiences and opportunities at the next station”.

Born Different by Nak Noy Cambodian artist.

Born Different by Nak Noy.

Another talented Cambodian nurtured by Tribe is Nak Noy. He’s just twenty years old, but has already carved out an ever-growing reputation as a bold and fearless artist. His work often features the feminine form, channeled through intricate patterns and metaphors around innocence, nature and hope.

Tribe Art Gallery Siem Reap.

You can find prints of Nak Noy’s work in the gallery. Moreover, his beautiful mural, Born Different, takes pride of place directly across the road from the gallery. Leading us outside, Terry showed us another stunning Nak Noy painting, just around the corner at Coconut Alley.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

Wall mural by Nak Noy Coconut Alley Siem Reap.

Innocence by Nak Noy. Coconut Alley, Siem Reap.

The alley is a particularly heartwarming part of the Tribe story. Over the past couple of years Terry and Nat have transformed this once sad, derelict alley into one of the city’s coolest, albeit underrated sights. You certainly won’t have any trouble finding it. Just look out for Siem Reap’s lovely coconut ladies, stationed at the entrance to the alley.

Coconut Alley, Siem Reap.

The Coconut Ladies Siem Reap.

The Coconut Ladies, Siem Reap.

These women have been selling their coconuts here for years. When Tribe began decorating the alley with their murals, the women were initially wary. But before long they saw how beautiful it had become and realised the murals were drawing in customers. Heck, even Sladja found herself talked into buying a coconut.

Coconut ladies bag Tribe Art Gallery

“Yay for Tribe! Have a coconut.”

Terry, Nat and the coconut women soon became firm friends. So much so, that the ladies themselves have been immortalised in an alley mural. You can even pick up a Coconut Ladies bag in the gallery!

Kandalis mural Fin DAC Coconut Alley Siem Reap.

Kandalis by Fin DAC. Coconut Alley, Siem Reap.

Furthermore, Coconut Alley showcases a striking mural from the acclaimed Irish artist Fin DAC. Thanks to Terry and Nat’s efforts, the London-based painter came to Cambodia to gift a number of murals across the country. His Coconut Ally creation is called Kandalis, which depicts a traditional Khmer Apsara dancer.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

Khmer schoolboy mural Siem Reap.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

There are several other notable murals near Tribe. Of these, my favourite is this Siem Reap schoolboy by the artist Ben Slow. Modelled on a local boy who lives in the neighbourhood, the mural was added to the street in February 2020. The boy in question comes from a poor family, but is completely dedicated to his education. Terry told us how he studies daily from dusk till dawn and is learning both English and Chinese.

Street art Siem Reap Cambodia.

Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap.

Terry and Nat have made quite a name for themselves in Siem Reap, not least due to their social work in the community. Several events they organised, for example, have raised significant funds for Phare Ponleu Selpak School, the NGO connected to Phare, The Cambodian Circus.

The British Ambassador to Cambodia is a Tribe fan too. In fact, she regularly helps out with various social projects and purchased a number of Nak Noy pieces for her private residence in Phnom Penh.

Tina Redshaw British Ambassador to Cambodia.

Tina Redshaw, British Ambassador to Cambodia.

Just over a month after our visit to Tribe, we learned that Terry McIlkenny had suddenly passed away. It was Nat who broke the news on social media, with tributes pouring in for a man  “with a large heart” who was “a dedicated advocate of the arts”.

Rest In Peace Terry.

Despite being utterly heartbroken, Nat insists Tribe will continue in Terry’s honour. According to Nat, a big part of Terry’s life was helping others be happy and achieve their goals. As such, Nat has established the Terry McIlkenny education fund. I’m glad we got to meet Terry and will aways be grateful that he gave us a window into Tribe’s vivid world. Our condolences go out to Nat, Terry’s loved ones and the extended Tribe family.

Terry McIlkenny Tribe Art Gallery.

Terry McIlkenny.

UPDATE: In February 2021 Nat decided to relocate Tribe Art Gallery to the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh. The decision came about due to the sadness of Terry’s passing and the general lack of tourist action in SR. Both Sladja and I wish Nat and Tribe’s many artists all the best in their new venture.

Tribe Art Gallery relocates from Siem Reap to Phnom Penh

For more on Tribe Art Gallery, head to their Facebook page. 

Like this? Check out more travel reports from Siem Reap.

Or maybe delve further afield with my articles from across Cambodia.

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  • kagould17

    Art gives life to a city and its population. This looks like a great gallery, opened for the right reasons Leighton. Happy Sunday. Allan

    July 31, 2022 - 2:01 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Allan, I totally agree, plus there aren’t enough places like this in Siem Reap and indeed around Cambodia. It’s a pity Nat had to move on, but Siem Reap’s loss is definitely Phnom Pen’s gain.

      July 31, 2022 - 2:29 pm Reply
  • Memo

    You can add me to the Tribe Fan Club. I did check out their facebook page and it was well worth the visit. Thanks for including the link. With their move, it made me wonder what happened to the coconut ladies. Loved their story and your portrait of them with their portraits. Here’s to street art and the talented artists who create it.

    July 31, 2022 - 3:11 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      You’re right to have spared a thought for the coconut ladies. Unfortunately, I can’t help but feel the foot traffic they once received decreased a lot since Nat and co left. I’m guessing they at least had to move to a more prominent location. Glad you appreciated Tribe’s art and its story.

      July 31, 2022 - 4:53 pm Reply
  • Mike and Kellye Hefner

    Art in any form soothes the soul and forces us to think. The Tribe Art Gallery sounds like a place we would love because of the local artists they feature and the generosity of the owners. It’s very sad that Terry passed away. I join you in hoping that Nat is making his mark in Phnom Penh and continuing the community contributions he and Terry started in Siem Reap.

    July 31, 2022 - 4:36 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      I wholeheartedly agree with your sentiments about art Kellye, even though I would hardly describe myself as a connoisseur. There is so much to celebrate in Tribe’s story, but a lot of sadness attached too. COVID… Terry’s death… the decision to leave Siem Reap. As you say, let’s hope Nat and his artists are thriving in the Cambodian capital. Thanks, as ever, for your readership.

      July 31, 2022 - 4:57 pm Reply

    There’s a lesson in your recent posts about Siem Reap, Leighton, which has got us talking. Five weeks is the longest we’ve stayed in one place but these posts are really showing what hidden treasures one can uncover if the stay is long enough to really get to know a place. It’s got us thinking about finding somewhere to settle for a few months. In any event, we now have an extended list of things to see and do when we eventually get to Siem Reap.

    July 31, 2022 - 5:07 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Well, that’s great. I’m sure you would reap similar benefits from a longer stay that makes you feel more like a local than a visitor. I’ve been lucky over the years to have actually lived in places with various teaching jobs. Then, between contracts, I usually had as much time as I wanted to travel the surrounding regions/countries. Over the years, I just made a habit out of extended trips. On the one hand, I feel like I’ve experienced certain places deeper. On the other side of the coin, I haven’t visited half as many countries as a lot of people I know. Maybe a balance is needed now I’m into my mid 40s ha ha. Thanks for your support of this series, it means a lot. At the time of writing, we are looking at another long term stay (this time for up to a year possibly) in a European country. It’s exciting, and maybe a little unnerving too. We had considered settling in Serbia, but it wasn’t meant to be at this particular moment in time.

      July 31, 2022 - 5:45 pm Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    Art really does add heart to a community. So wonderful what they achieved but so sad about Terry’s passing. Hopefully Phnom Penh will be a better spot for Tribe. Maggie

    July 31, 2022 - 5:20 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for checking out Tribe’s story, Maggie. I appreciate you taking the time to keep up with the Siem Reap articles and hope your trip is going well!

      July 31, 2022 - 5:46 pm Reply
  • Stan

    What a shock it mustve been to find out about Terry so soon after your visit. a generally heartwarming article with a sad ending. hope they continue their success in the big smoke of phnom penh

    July 31, 2022 - 5:49 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was a shock, yes. We felt like we’d only just chatted with him. He wasn’t an old man and seemed in good health, what a terrible pity and a reminder that we should all live life to the full. I’m sure Terry has no regrets with Tribe and what he achieved since coming to Cambodia.

      July 31, 2022 - 5:54 pm Reply
  • wetanddustyroads

    It’s amazing how two guys can make such a difference to a place, isn’t it? It’s always great to read that local talent are supported (and to involve them, like the coconut ladies). But it’s also sad to read about Terry’s death and the relocation of the Tribe Art Gallery … one hope that they will go from strength to strength in their new location. Just another thought: I wonder what will happen to the lovely coconut ladies now?

    July 31, 2022 - 8:56 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Hey Corna, thanks for your lovely comment. The Tribe story is one that blends incredible creativity, talent, hope and sadness. As for the coconut ladies, it must have been a tough period after Tribe left the city. I only hope that they have managed to bounce back and keep making a living for themselves in the post-pandemic landscape.

      July 31, 2022 - 9:14 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    A heartwarming story about the Tribe art gallery but sad to learn of Terry’s passing. I would like one of those coconuts from the ladies down that lane too!

    July 31, 2022 - 9:24 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by Marion, still celebrating England’s victory at Wembley here in our little corner of Serbia. It finally “came home”, who’da thought.

      July 31, 2022 - 9:47 pm Reply
      • Little Miss Traveller

        Yes,it was great wasn’t it. I half watched till extra time then put down my iPad and pad full attention for the final half hour. So pleased for them!

        July 31, 2022 - 9:49 pm
  • NortheastAllie

    Wow that is really cool how Tribe supports local artists, and also the murals are beautiful!

    July 31, 2022 - 10:23 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Allie! 🙏

      July 31, 2022 - 10:34 pm Reply
  • hollymrichards

    This is such a wonderful and inspiring post. Street art can often be overlooked but I’m so pleased you followed it and discovered the world behind it. Terry sounds like a beautiful man and I’m glad his legacy continues.

    August 1, 2022 - 1:05 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Holly! Tribe and its art was definitely a bit under the radar at that time. Indeed it was only after a few months living in Siem Reap that we found out about it. Thanks for reading and contributing to the thread.

      August 1, 2022 - 9:38 am Reply
  • Lyssy In The City

    What a cool spot to stumble upon and uncover! I feel like I walk by so many spots in NYC that probably have a very neat story if I would take the time to listen 🙂

    August 1, 2022 - 9:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for dropping by Lyssy.

      August 1, 2022 - 9:20 pm Reply
  • grandmisadventures

    What a beautiful tribute to Terry and the work he did in creating such a wonderful community. I always love seeing the murals in a place because it really gives you a look into the people and the stories they want to share with the world. What I have really loved about this whole series is the honesty about the difficult, heart breaking parts of the history but also the transformation and the desire to take those hard things and use them to do good and pay forward a greater understanding and opportunity.

    August 1, 2022 - 9:40 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks so much Meg. It did feel like nearly all of Tribe’s local artists had emerged through difficult backstories. All are incredibly talented but without Nat and Terry wouldn’t have had the platform or support to grow. I’m so glad you’ve enjoyed this series, I’ll now be transitioning into the temples, which Is what Siem Reap is so famous for. I’m hoping that the pieces won’t end up feeling too samey.

      August 1, 2022 - 9:50 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    What a neat exhibit! Really looks to be a local venture that also transcends international borders with its themes and interest from people outside of Cambodia. The artworks are absolutely vibrant and capture the equally-vibrant spirit of the community.

    August 3, 2022 - 5:46 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for stopping by Rebecca!

      August 3, 2022 - 9:20 am Reply
  • Travels Through My Lens

    I hope relocating to Phnom Penh will provide more exposure for Tribe Art and the beautiful pieces they create. It’s sad to hear about Terry’s passing, but no doubt his legacy will live on.

    August 3, 2022 - 6:30 am Reply
    • Leighton

      I’m sure they are flourishing in Phnom Penh, which seemed better equipped to deal with the pandemic than Siem Reap. Thanks Tricia for your attention to this series.

      August 3, 2022 - 10:51 am Reply
  • WanderingCanadians

    It’s incredible how much influence art can have on a community or culture. Sorry to hear about Terry passing away. Hopefully his memory will continue to live on in the Tribe Art Gallery at their new venue.

    August 3, 2022 - 11:45 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thank you so much for reading and for your comment. Art can be everything at times, I feel, especially during times of crisis.

      August 3, 2022 - 11:54 am Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    The concept of photographing along a train trip appeals to me. Love the portraits.

    August 4, 2022 - 5:29 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      That must have been such an exciting project. Memories for life, I’m sure.

      August 4, 2022 - 5:45 pm Reply
  • Travel Report: Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap. – nature lifestyle

    […] Travel Report: Tribe Art Gallery, Siem Reap. […]

    August 6, 2022 - 7:13 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for the repost!

      August 6, 2022 - 7:14 pm Reply

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