Cambodian artist talks about an experimental mechanism for art discussion

10 January 2019
Cambodian artist talks about an experimental mechanism for art discussion

A talk about Sa Sa Art Projects was held on Jan. 5 at Myanm/Art. The project focuses on actions through collaboration with artists, students, residents and other creative practitioners in a community in Phnom Penh.

This talk was given by the co-founder and curator of Sa Sa Art Project Vuth Lyno. The title of the talk was “Transform, Transcend- Negotiating Space, Facilitating Communities”.

Lyno talked about the cultural, social and political context of Cambodia. He said that their project was founded in a country where “free speech is a luxury”. According to Lyno, when people gathered to protest against the government’s decisions, the government used violent measures to kick out the protestors.

Also, public cultural services are not enough for contemporary art education and engagement in Phnom Penh. “There is only one state art university in Phnom Penh and the curriculum has not been updated for decades,” Lyno said.

In responding to the context, Lyno and other founders wanted to hold a visual art program and engaged with the audience and new generation artists with greater autonomy.

The founders chose the White Building as their project base in 2010. People were evacuated from the city in 1975 as a result of Khmer Rouge. In 1979 as the regime was overthrown, the very first people who returned to the White Building were artists who survived. The community then grew into “an artist village”. This place also attracted residents from the countryside who were looking for affordable housing. It gradually grew into a community with 2000 residents.

At first, the White Building was a residential complex with more than 300 apartment units. Later people transformed it to their own purpose. “It became like a micro city,” Lyno said. It had a residential complex, cultural venue and exhibition hall.

According to Lyno, after 3 years, the project focused on art workshops and collaborative projects. Founders engaged with the students in the neighbourhood through collaboration with the community school. Drawing, photography, sculpture and other art classes were taught to students.

Lyno considered the students “the bridge to the community”. Through exercise projects, students interacted with their family and asked for a donation from their neighbours and then the dialogue about art started in the neighbourhood. “We experience and advocate for a sense of community that derives from shared creativity,” Lyno said.

Lyno gave an example of a student’s work. “Once a student cycled around the city asking people’s opinions about different things and then recorded the voices,” Lyno said, “He then continued cycling around and used a loudspeaker to play these voices, sharing messages to another neighbourhood. He even played the voices near Independence monument and prime minister’s house.”

Sa Sa Art Project functions as community engagement. Most of the events held were throughout the neighbourhood, such as on the rooftop or in a coffee shop. Lyno said that they encouraged students and residents to negotiate together to use the space and organized together.”

Lyno regarded the white building as an experimental mechanism for art education and engagement. “The white building is not only a building but a model of the creative city,” he said.

After the White Building was pulled down owing to urban development in 2016, the project moved to a new place and shifted toward a stronger engagement with young Cambodian artists and art graduates while continuing to build a deeper dialogue with artists within Asia through its creative education programs, exhibitions, and other special collaborative projects.