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Why young people are not interested in Khmer sculpture


“IF culture dies, so does the nation. If culture is splendid, so is the nation.”

That Khmer proverb, well known by Cambodian people,  recognises that the way a country develops depends on its culture.And human resources are a key factor in enhancing the Cambodian culture.   
Sculpture is an art form that plays an important role in developing culture.

But because it’s not offered as a major for young people today, it faces an uncertain future.

Sa Piseth, a sculpture professor at the Royal University of Fine Arts, says some students don’t like to study it because most of them think it offers few job opportunities and not much money.

These factors lead some graduates to choose a different career path from the one they have studied at university, he says.

“Few students run their own sculpting business. Some are working as teachers or police officers, which is quite different from the skills they have learned,” Sa Piseth says.

He adds that most young people like studying a skill that is related to technology, because it is more convenient than being employed as a modeller who has to work with clay.

Or Socheata, 18, a recent high-school graduate, plans to study Khmer literature because she wants to become a lecturer in Khmer.

“I don’t have any interest or talent in this major (sculpture), and I think people have to spend a lot of time studying it but cannot earn much money,” she says.

Or Socheata says her parents would not support her studying sculpture because they think it’s not a fit occupation for a female. They want her to work in a government sector rather than being a modeller.

Although most young people are not interested in this major, the Royal University of Fine Arts still offers it. In fact, to encourage people to study sculpture, the university stages an exhibition each year to showcase its students’ achievements.

“When they’re second- or third-year students, they’re able to find jobs to practise what they have learned at university, and they can earn some money as well,” Sa Piseth says.  Phoung Sovann, a third-year sculpture student, says that as well as studying at the university, he has a  part-time job as a modeller to earn some money to support his family.

He says he can earn an average of $200 a month, and sometimes much more than that.​​​ “If you are professional at this skill, there is no lack of market demand,” he says.

Phoung Sovann says he chose this major because he thought there were fewer people studying in this field and because he loved sculpture and wanted to maintain an ancestor’s achievements.

But he also acknowledges some diffi-culties about the job. “This major is difficult, because we have to use both force and thinking,” he says. “And it’s easy to make your clothes grimy.”

Khuon Sethikun, deputy director of the faculty of music at the Royal School of Fine Arts, says not many students attend sculpture modelling classes.

“There are few students studying this major, but I hope it will not disappear, because we always think of students’ qualifications,” he says.

Chhouk Rithy, an administration officer of the Royal University of Fine Arts, says the number of sculpture students is dwindling from year to year. In the 2010-2011 academic year, only 10 students were studying sculpture, he says.

Khoun Sokna, who received a bachelor’s degree in this major in 2009 and has his own sculpting business, Sculpture Decoration, says he loves the skill because he can pass on his achievements to the next generation and to society.



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