The popularity of hand-painted signs in Cambodia seems to be increasing on a daily basis. During last week’s ‘road show’ to launch the book in Phnom Penh I learned of a new shop that, among many other things, is selling the odd original hand-painted sign. The shop is called trunkh. and can be found on Sothearos Boulevard, just up the road from Cambodian Living Arts, home of the current exhibition.
I decided to investigate and stumbled upon owners Doug and Marianne when I visited last Thursday. Here’s what I found out…
Doug and Marianne, respectively graphic designer and advertising creative director by trade, are friends and ‘creative partners’ in this venture inspired by their mutual love of all things Cambodian. Marianne is a Phnom Penh veteran of five years while Doug moved to the city 18 months go after being seduced during a visit from his then home of Bangkok.
The shop has a mixture of household items, jewellery, clothing, decorations and toys for sale. In some cases these are genuine Cambodian objects while others are inspired by things in Cambodia. The retail area has the feel of a second-hand shop back home in London but with brand new items juxtaposed with worn and weathered relics of the street. In the picture above you can see a hand-painted key cutting booth used to display jewellery and, beside that, bags printed with chairs salvaged by Doug and Marianne. It is this mixture of Cambodia and ‘inspired by Cambodia’ that makes the shop stand out compared to the standard Phnom Penh fare.
The prints are Marianne’s work and the dog shown here is reminiscent of one of the guard dog signs from the book. Both Marianne and Doug emphasised that they want the shop to celebrate “beautiful Cambodian things” whether these are “stupid, silly, wonderful or gorgeous”. They both count the hand-painted signs amongst these things but this isn’t their main trade. The handful currently found in the shop were either already discarded by the owners or on the cusp of replacement. Their philosophy is that they don’t want to deplete the streets of these quirky signs, only to offer them a life beyond what their owners have in mind.
The shop, as the name suggests, is a real “trunk of treasures” curated by two passionate collectors. The ‘h’ at the end of the name is silent, as in Phnom Penh, but is there to leave the ending as ‘kh’, the two letter demarcation for Cambodia on the internet. It’s location is slightly off the beaten track but Marianne and Doug were both emphatic in their love of the location, directly opposite the ‘White Building’ by Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann. It’s a fitting location for this celebration of all things Cambodian, not least its hand-painted signs.