By Mr. Liew Kung Yu & Ms. Koe Gaik Cheng (Malaysia)
Continuing the second phase of the Asian TYA Network research visits, we arrived in Cambodia and set out to meet with local representatives in the cities of Siem Reap, Battambang, and Phnom Penh.
As with previous research visits, the objective of this excursion was to learn about the situation in the country and explore further opportunities to expand the network.
The development of TYA in Cambodia is different from the countries we visited (Singapore & Malaysia) due to its tragic history of civil war and the genocidal tragedy widely known throughout to the world as the ‘Killing Fields’ which resulted in the deaths of millions of Cambodians.
Even now, 40 years after the event, the impact of the Khmer Rouge’s totalitarian regime virtually destroyed the country’s connection to its history and culture, and left the country stagnant in terms of development until only about a decade ago.
The current generation of Cambodians regards itself as an ‘empty canvas’, but this is also an opportunity as young people are hungry for the arts and are seeking to rediscover their traditions and develop new art forms.
However, due to widespread poverty and lack of government interest, there is generally not much support for the arts is left to the care of NGOs and social enterprises. For similar reasons, such endeavors are mainly focused on developing mainstream arts to attract tourism and revenues rather than on its benefits to nurture young audiences.
Venue: Café at Angkor Century Resort & Spa, Siem Reap
People Met: (our coordinators)
Venue: Bambu Stage, Wat Damnak Village, Siem Reap
- Nick Coffill (Creative Director of Bambu Stage)
- Sorn Soran (Puppeteer of Bambu Stage)
Hosted by Tangram Garden Restaurant, Bambu Stage has two key priorities. First: to change perceptions about the history, cultures and issues that affect Cambodia. Second: to nurture local talent – in a professional and artistic collaboration.
As a venue, Bambu runs three performances weekly, namely:
Facilities: The venue comprises outdoor performance area for shadow puppets, semi-indoor space for Angkors Temples De-coded and 150 years of Photography in Cambodia, restaurant and coming up soon is a new theatre with capacity of 150 audiences.
Venue: Wat Damnak Pagoda, Siem Reap
Now entering its 11th year, The Giant Puppet Project is a program for underprivileged children in Siem Reap. Giant puppets are created by children and include unique educational, cultural or ecological themes such as road safety, endangered species, hygiene, local cultural appreciation and environmental awareness.
The project brings in approximately 600 children from different NGOs (about 18) to participate in a 2-week long workshop together with the artists from Phare Visual & Applied Arts Schools to build the giant puppets.
Venue: Rehearsal space at Cambodian National Youth Centre, Siem Reap
NCA is a unique, innovative, dance company, led by a collective of young Cambodian women with the core belief of seeking female empowerment through dance. Through their works, NCA encourages local and international audiences to think more broadly about Cambodian culture and its many layers and possibilities.
Coming from simple backgrounds, the members of NCA work to improve themselves in a range of areas including: contemporary and classical dance and choreography, local and international cultural history, stage direction, teaching and leadership, advocacy and English language skills.
The company hopes to continue to grow, taking on more dancers and touring work to both provincial areas of Cambodia where people would otherwise have no access to performance art, as well as representing Cambodia on an international scale.
Same Same But Different, presented by Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Venue: Phare Ponleu Selpak, Anh Chanh Village, Battambang
Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA)
Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPSA) or “The Brightness of the Arts” is a non-profit Cambodian association that strives to improve the lives of children, young adults, and their families with art schools, educational programs, and social support since 1994.
Founded in 1994 by nine young Cambodian men returning home from a refugee camp after the fall of the Khmer Rouge. Today more than 1,200 pupils attend the public school daily and 500 attend the vocational arts training programs.
In its curriculum, the school offers formal K-12 education and professional arts training in the areas of visual arts (illustration, painting, graphic design, and animation), theater, music, dance, and circus. All programs are offered for free with funding generated by PPSE (see below) and international support.
Phare Performing Social Enterprise (PPSE)
Recognising the need for self-sufficiency, the PPSA Founded in 2013, PPSE is a social enterprise whose primary purpose is to provide meaningful employment for Cambodian artists. Its objectives are as follows:
Under the umbrella of PPSE are three sub-enterprises: (1) Phare, The Cambodian Circus, (2) Phare Productions International, and (3) Phare Creative Studio.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus
Phare Productions International
Phare Creative Studio
• Launches in 2016
• Creating original content: 2D animation, graphic design and illustration
• Professional video and sound recording services
Tchamleak (Weird) presented by Phare Ponleu Selpak
Venue: 128-G9 Blvd Samdach, Phnom Penh
We were introduced to several theatre practitioners from Cambodian Living Arts. The discussion focused on certain projects that they are currently involved and the challenges they face to revive ‘Yike’, a traditional Cambodian form of singing and dancing which has largely vanished, and update it for modern audiences.
Traditional Dance Show, presented by Cambodian Living Art
Venue: Café, Teahouse Asian Urban Hotel, Phnom Penh
Sophiline Arts Ensemble (formerly Khmer Arts Ensemble) is an internationally renowned classical dance and music company that is based at the Khmer Arts Theater in Takhmao, Kandal Province. The Ensemble trains students in both Khmer classical dance as well experimental work.
The company mainly targets young Cambodians (ie university students and emerging middle class who have slightly better income than the older generation) with its efforts, with the intention to awaken them to engage in arts and cultural events
Venue: #37, Sothearos Blvd, 12301 Phnom Penh
Cambodia’s first media/art/communication center, META HOUSE was established in January 2007 in the capital Phnom Penh, south of Wat Botum Pagoda. Local and international media perceives the META HOUSE as one of Cambodia’s top addresses for arts and culture.
Since its founding, the center has been actively working to promote the development of Cambodia’s new arts movement through local and international exhibitions, festivals, workshops, community-based projects, artist exchange programs and by fostering links with South East Asian and international universities, galleries, curators, non-governmental and governmental organizations.
Set on more than 500 square meter the newly built center accommodates a large art gallery, a rooftop cinema and the restaurant “Art Café”. META HOUSE: CAMBODIAN GERMAN CULTURAL CENTER also hosts dance, theatre and music events, as well as providing space for meaningful public events where NGOs are invited to conduct workshops and seminars.
Venue: #154, Street 369, Sangkat Chba Ampov Khan Chamkamorn, Phnom Penh
Tiny Toones is a children centre in slum area that provide academic classes (English, Khmer & Computing)& creative classes (Music, Dance & Arts) before/after school. Born with the intention to give youths from underprivileged areas a safe environment to channel their energy into creativity, the arts and education.
The center attracts over 100 children from the slums come every day who come to dance, to make music, to dance, learn and to enjoy the freedom to be children.
Venue: #166, Street 99 (Corner Street 484), Phnom Penh
This association, created in 1993 promotes the treasures of Cambodian culture. The venue can accommodate 100 persons, with several entertainments and a running program, including classic and contemporary dances, traditional and popular music, drums, large and small shadow puppets, mask dance, circus.
Cambodia is one of the more difficult countries in ASEAN, however we were greatly impressed by the communities have so much passion in arts and culture. Although the representatives and NGO’s we’ve met mainly deal with children, we’ve observed that theatre specifically catering for young audience is not something that is realized yet.
There are signs, however, that this could change soon and as a country with one of the fastest growing economies in Asia, its children and youth will need more support and energy to face the rapid change of society. This will likely be an uphill battle though, as most of the NGO’s we’ve encountered barely make enough to sustain themselves.
This concludes our report. We would like to take this opportunity to extend our gratitude to the following individuals: