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Institut Français celebrates twenty years

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The Institut Français du Cambodge, the first art centre to reopen in the Kingdom after decades of civil conflict that ravaged its once-thriving cultural scene, will commemorate its 20th year this month with a string of lively events.

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The Institut, established in 1992 after the re-opening of the French Embassy, originally focused on the regeneration and renewal of the arts scene in Cambodia.

With the changes sweeping Cambodian society in the twenty years since its founding, the Institut has remained a leader in the Kingdom’s growing art scene, promoting traditional as well as contemporary art forms.   

Olivier Planchon, Deputy Director of the Institut, said that one of the greatest achievements of the centre has been the successful nurturing of local artists, to the point of helping them earn recognition on the international stage.

In the spirit of such communion, local and international artists will unite to celebrate the Institut’s twenty years of cultural and linguistic exchange.

There are currently 6,000 French language students enrolled with the Institut, according to Planchon.  

The first celebration will open on Thursday at 4pm with a dynamic fashion show featuring hand-woven Cambodian silk dresses by Phnom Penhite LimKeo.

He said about his collection, “I took my inspiration from the life cycle of the silk worm, from the cocoon to silk thread.”

French-Cambodian Phousera Ing, also known as “Sera”, will exhibit his most recent work - canvasses which pay homage to Cambodia’s ancestral culture and its bloody and tragic past.

Sera, who lives in Paris, is also a graphic novelist, sculptor, researcher and he teaches at the University of Paris I and at the Centre Saint-Charles.    

Also set to open the celebration is the work of Parisian graffiti man Julien Malland whose  tag name is “Seth”.

Seth’s graffiti pieces are mainly cartoon-like personages combining modernity and tradition, refined by his love for different cultures inspired from a lifestyle of globetrotting.

He created ten wall paintings on streets scattered across Phnom Penh for the occasion.

With only a touch of research tucked away in his belt, most of the paintings were spontaneous and inspired by what he saw in Khmer culture – a culture he is very new to.

“It’s the things I see in the street, I try to mix the modernity with the traditional things,” he said.

Seth began painting walls in Paris in the nineties.

Walls in Brazil, Chile, China, South Africa, India, Mexico, Vietnam and now Cambodia are speckled with his art.

He praised the Institute Français of Cambodia for offering an art space that allowed students to join culture and modernity in their art.

“I think it is important that the French keep this kind of institution here. French are good with art.”

There will also be an exhibition presenting the Institut’s 20-year history.

Objects, textbooks and photographs will be displayed to show how the institution has adapted its methods over time.

Planchon said the institution was very keen to continue working in Cambodia for many more decades, as they did over the past 20 years.

The main anniversary commemoration will take place Thursday, April 5 beginning at 4pm at the Institut, on #218 Street 184, Phnom Penh. Also on the April birthday line-up are a free reggae concert by Senegalese musician, Naby at Chenla Theatre on April 7, and an opera, L’Enfant et les Sortileges, on April 27.

To contact the reporter on this story: Deborah Seccombe at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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