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Battling land mines with artistry

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Fishing, New Life and Children’s Game, from left to right, works by Tor Vutha on display at the “IMPACT” exhibit.

Months in the making and involving the dedicated efforts of 10 artists whose works spotlight the ongoing crisis involving land mines in Cambodia as well as the successes achieved in mine eradication over more than a decade, the UNDP-funded exhibit “IMPACT” opens tonight at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre.

“It’s a celebration of everything that has been achieved in mine action … since mine action began in the ’90s,” said Alexandra Hiniker, a UNDP communications and advocacy officer.

The artists, whose works comprise paintings, sculptures and installations constructed from decommissioned land mines, prepared for the IMPACT exhibit by spending time with land-mine survivors and residents in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces – two of the Kingdom’s most mine-affected regions – who live on land still heavily mined or areas that have since been cleared. They also spoke with de-miners and others working to free Cambodia of mines and other unexploded ordnance.

Chhon Dina, a sculptor who is exhibiting, said her visit to Banteay Meanchey province filled him with fear for the dangers that rural residents face there on a daily basis. “How can people live there, and how do children play there?” she said of the thoughts she had during her visit.

Chhon Dina said her sculptures attempt to illustrate how land mines disrupt what should be the peaceful co-existence between humans and their natural surroundings. “I learned about the problems with land mines and the ways in which people have been injured or killed by them,” she said.

Her sculpture My Problem Is Your Problem is an attempt to illustrate that land mines affect everyone. “I want people who see my sculpture to perceive that the land mine and the foot that steps on it, and the body that can be broken by it are all connected … and that [people] will not make any more land mines.”

Four young land mine survivors also contributed to the exhibition with a collaborative work titled My Stories. The installation includes a series of hanging boxes, each of which tells the personal story of its creator. The interior represents experiences in the past, including the circumstances of their injury by land mines, while the exterior envisions the future and the personal ambitions of the land mine survivor.

The exhibit coincides with an anniversary that is at the heart of the project. “One of the main reasons we’re doing this is that it is a celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the anti-personnel land mine convention, which Cambodia ratified in 1999,” Hiniker said.

“This December in Cartagena, Colombia, they’re presenting an extension request for 10 more years,” Hiniker said, referring to the Cartagena Summit on a Mine-Free World, beginning November 30 and running through December 4.

“Australia has kindly offered to support taking the [“IMPACT”] exhibit to Colombia so everyone can see how well things are going [in Cambodia] and also to see that there’s a thriving art scene here,” Hiniker added.

The artists say they are eager for people from other nations to see their work.

“I am very happy that this [exhibit] will go to another country,” said Chhon Dina. “I have heard that Colombia has had a lot of problems with land mines as well, so I hope the people there are learning a lot about [land mines] and how dangerous they are. I want my sculpture to help convince them not to use mines anymore.”

“IMPACT” opens tonight at Bophana Audiovisual Resource Centre from 6pm to 8pm, and the exhibit will run through October 10. For more information, visit landmineart.blogspot.com.

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