As a budding economy that is still trying to keep up with its neighbours, Cambodia’s arts and culture scene is still at a relatively nascent stage compared with the more developed countries nearby.
After all, when a significant chunk of the population is still struggling to make ends meet, objects d’art tend to be seen as secondary in the overall hierarchy of needs – unnecessary extravagances that are out of reach for the masses, and as such, have little relevance to the lives of many Cambodians.
That said, the arts and culture scene is far from being stagnant. In fact, significant moves are being made to promote Cambodian arts and culture, both locally and abroad, in all of its shapes and forms. Khmer Times spoke to the executive director of Cambodian Living Arts, Phloeun Prim, about the progress that was made in 2017, the role that art could play in modern Cambodia and his outlook on the promotion of Cambodian arts and culture in the coming year.
KT: In retrospect, how did you see the development and promotion of Cambodian arts and culture throughout 2017?
Phloeun Prim: The year 2017 was actually a very big year for Cambodian arts – Angelina Jolie’s “First They Killed My Father” showed audiences around the world the enormous degree of talent and creativity from the Cambodian cast and production team. Back home, the film really touched audiences; connecting generations in towns and villages around the country, myself and my family included.
At Cambodian Living Arts, we took our commission “Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia”, created by Rithy Panh and Him Sophy, to Melbourne, New York, and Boston – reaching the Cambodian diaspora with a message of resilience, personal reconciliation and hope for the future.
It is the first major symphonic work addressing the tragedies that occurred throughout the late 1970s in Cambodia.
Furthermore, Phare Ponleu Selpak and Amrita Performing Arts took the contemporary circus “See You Yesterday” to the Kigeme refugee camp in Rwanda, drawing crowds of over 5,000 people each night – showing that Cambodian arts have the ability to heal, transform and inspire that transcends cultural barriers and national jurisdictions.
KT: Cambodia’s arts and culture scene is still at its very early stages of development – the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, for instance, is returning for its second season after decades of neglect and decay. Do you think there is enough interest among Cambodia’s younger generations to lift the scene from its infancy in the coming year?
Phloeun Prim: Within Cambodia, we have seen commitments being made to further promote and develop to Cambodian arts and culture in all sectors and industries. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts hosted the second Arts Forum of Cambodia, bringing together the government, non-profit organisations, private companies, individual artists and grassroots organisations.
Cambodian Living Arts’ newest venture, in partnership with the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Unesco and an “Arts Alliance” of partner NGOS from around the country, is a five-year project to incorporate culture and arts into the Cambodian education system.
This is a real opportunity to leave a meaningful legacy for the next generation of Cambodians, and something I am personally really excited about.
I’m also happy to launch a season of local performances, conferences and demonstrations on the theme of “Identity”, which will be running in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap from April to September 2018.
Last year, we saw more and more our events filled with enthusiastic young Cambodians, happy to spend money to experience arts. The local demand for arts and cultural performance is rapidly growing – and in 2018 it will only get bigger.