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PEACE MASKS to break barriers

Eileen McCormick / Khmer Times Share:
Peace Mask East Asia models with their Peace Masks. Supplied

It is through accepting and understanding our diversity that we find ways to gain genuine peace. The Peace Mask Project, a Japan-based conceptual art project, uses this idea to encourage peace and unity. On May 4 at the Meta House, Cambodia will witness the first ever exhibit of its very own Peace Mask Project. The event follows an intensive research by selected Cambodians at the borders to better know the nature of people and communities in the Kingdom. Eileen McCormick talks with Kya Kim director of the Peace Mask Project (PMP) and Suyheang Kry, executive director of Women Peace Makers (WPM), to give light on the significance of this endeavour.

Good Times2: What is the historical background of the Peace Mask Project?

Kya Kim: The Peace Mask Project originated with Japan-Korea Life Mask Project (2000-2002) in conjunction with the shared hosting of the 2002 World Cup Soccer Games. The completion of the project was celebrated by exhibitions of 1,560 Life Masks of Korean and Japanese models along with events in Yokohama (June) and Seoul (December) in 2002.

It was then changed to Peace Mask Project. Along with further endeavours in both Korea and Japan, workshops, exhibitions, talks, and events have been held in a wide range of locations including Canada, Germany, Poland, India, Finland, Spain, Cambodia, and the US.

Photo: Supplied

From 2016 to 2017, a special project was conducted with the title of Hiroshima Nagasaki (Hibakusha) Peace Mask Project. Over the course of 16 months, 100 Peace Masks were made by the survivors and their descendants of the nuclear bombings of the two cities. A final exhibition was held in March of 2017 at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Further international exhibitions of these 100 Hibakusha Peace Masks are being planned.

In addition, the Peace Mask Project is hoping to continue working towards the completion of Peace Mask East Asia, which is a youth-oriented project that began in 2014.

Good Times2: Which country or place held the most successful PMP?

Kya Kim: The Peace Mask Project is dedicated to encourage a shared vision for peace through art, cross-cultural dialogue, workshops and exhibitions. We hope that Peace Masks can provide a valuable tool for a deep reflection on peace and conflict in often divided communities, regardless of the country or place, and support those who are moving towards a future of peace through deep understanding and an exploration of common ground.

Peace Mask East Asia models from Japan, China, and Korea. Photo: Supplied

Good Times2: How did you select Cambodia as your next partner?

Kya Kim: When we started the conversation about possible collaboration with Women Peace Makers, we all could see immediately the commonalities between Peace Masks and Facilitative Listening Design in terms of the process and shared goals. We are very much looking forward to working closely with Women Peace Makers in Cambodia to see how we can use our respective tools in looking at ethnic identity.

Good Times2: 15 Cambodians participated in the research for the Peace Mask Project. What did they do?

Suyheang Kry: There will be 15 masks made by Cambodians. Twelve of them will be from those who we call our “Listeners”. They have just finished the “Facilitative Listening Design” research. Essentially, they went out to border communities and talked to people about their perceptions on ethnic relations. They listened to people’s views and opinions, recorded that information, and now we are just starting the analysis stage so we can get a better picture of everyday relations in Cambodian communities. The three additional Peace Masks will be made from special guests. We have Nika Tath coming from Seeing Hands, a blind female social entrepreneur and the first blind woman to engage in blind massage in Cambodia back in the 1990s. I will also have a Peace Mask made and hope to take the opportunity to reflect and talk about gender in terms of Cambodian identity. We are still considering another guest at the moment.

The 12 Listeners come from very different ethnic backgrounds and really represent the richness of Cambodian diversity. We have Khmer, Indigenous, Chinese Cambodians, ethnic Vietnamese, mixed-race, and Cham Muslims in the group. They are an incredible group of young Cambodians who are not just listening to the opinions of others, but also exploring their own perceptions of identity in Cambodia and how they make up the fabric of our ethnically diverse society.

Good Times2: How did you come up with next month’s event title – Hear, Listen, Look, See, Touch, Feel?

Suyheang Kry: Interestingly, we have been using Facilitative Listening Design, our information gathering approach, in the past to understand ethnic relations in Cambodia using hearing and listening as the key sense to understand others. Our Listeners focus on their listening skills and use them to understand new perceptions and opinions. However, we learnt that Peace Mask Project in Japan has also been working for many years with the same goal! They also push those that they engage with to better understand “the Other”. But they use a very different approach.

They create these “Peace Masks” as a complex art form, with other senses like touching the faces of their participants and using the visual aspect so people can look at and see individuality and community diversity with a beautiful display of the imprinted faces. So we thought why not bring together our very different approaches to better understand “the Other” and build positive relations? It’s really a combination of our human senses to reach out and better understand those who we might not have such close interaction with.

Good Times2: How is the mask made?

Kya Kim: It’s a two-step process. A facial mold is created by carefully applying medical plaster to the model’s face. This takes approximately 10 minutes. As the plaster hardens in about 20 minutes, the model lies quietly before the artist, which might be likened to meditation. As the Peace Mask mold is removed and shown to the model they are able to see their own face from a totally new perspective.

Final event for the Hibakusha Peace Mask Project at the Hiroshima Memorial Park and Museum in Hiroshima, Japan. Photo: Supplied

The Peace Mask mold is then set aside to dry further. After a certain duration, sheets of hand-made traditional Japanese or Korean washi paper is moistened and carefully placed within the mould. Normally, five layers of this paper are slowly applied, one after another. When all layers have been applied the papers within the mould are dried. This part of the Peace Mask-making takes about an hour. In this way, more than one Peace Mask can be made from each mould.

Good Times2: Do you think an art event like this can impact Cambodian culture?

Suyheang Kry: Culture is ever changing and evolving. It’s not our goal to impact Cambodian culture, but rather explore and celebrate it as we see it today and now. Our culture is rich. Ethnic diversity is an aspect, but we have so many layers of identity.

Good Times2: Are you working with any other local partners?

Suyheang Kry: WPM is a longstanding NGO in Cambodia with more than 15 years working on issues related domestic violence, conflict, ethnic relations, and peace in Cambodia. Our upcoming collaboration with the Peace Mask Project is massive. We are working with huge number of Cambodia-based organisations to bring people together and use the opportunity to engage in dialogue on our Cambodian identity. We’ve been in contact with so many like-minded local organisations to support us with venues, logistics, and join our conversation on these issues.

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