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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Cambodia's weapons forged into works of art

Cambodia's weapons forged into works of art

AK-47 ELEPHANT: The assault rifle that has become a Cambodian icon, is being used by art students to reforge the country's traditional symbol, the elephant that helped build Angkor Wat. This sculpture was created by Ou Vanndy from weapons handed in by civilians in Pursat province. More photos, story about this unique aid project.

The Phnom Penh warehouse is filled with the metallic buzz of angle grinders on steel

and the hot glow of welding, as art students turn the remnants of war into impressive

sculptures.

The Peace of Art Project Cambodia (PAPC) takes decommissioned weapons and uses them

as the raw materials for a group of talented artists from the Cambodian Royal University

of Fine Arts.

The project began as a discussion in 2001 between British artist Sasha Constable

and Neil Wilford, who had been involved in weapons collection from Cambodian communities.

A similar guns-into-art project had been done in Mozambique and the pair thought

that PAPC would be a great way to nurture Cambodia's arts scene, still recovering

from the killing of intellectuals during the Khmer Rouge regime, as well as promote

a weapons-free society.

Since November last year, 21 students have received training in the theory of sculpture

and the practical aspects of metalwork, with special tuition from renowned international

artists Mark Solomon and Joe Rush. Over the last six weeks the students have enthusiastically

transformed over 1000 rusty reminders of Cambodia's violent past into imaginative

works that point towards a more optimistic future.

"The new generation is like a blank sheet of paper, very white," says fourth-year

student Chhay Bunna. "So if we bring this message [about the use of guns] to

the young generation it's a good opportunity to be aware of peace in a society."

Many of the guns, bombs and ammunition being used were voluntarily handed in to the

first weapons-for-development program run in Pursat province by the EU Assistance

on Curbing Small Arms and Light Weapons in Cambodia. The government's Ministry of

Interior has cooperated with the project and additional materials were provided by

the Halo Trust Siem Reap.

In January veteran photographer Tim Page arrived in Cambodia and worked with Australian

photographers Megan

Cullen and Adam Ferguson to document the project.

A preview exhibition at the Foreign Correspondents Club at 7:30pm on February 18

will feature presentations from Tim Page and David de Beer. On February 20, Java

Café will exhibit Elements, a show of photographs, drawings and sculptures

by those involved in the PAPC project.

The main warehouse-based weapons sculpture exhibition will take place in March and

will also include innovative design by Development Technology Workshop and a wheelchair

making center run by Veterans International, who share the space with PAPC.

After PAPC has been shown in Cambodia, two of the students will travel to Australia

for a cultural exchange and exhibition at Griffith University.

Ouk Chim Vichet welds together gun barrels that were once owned by village militia in Pursat province.

The workshop in Phnom Penh has been a creative centre since students took over six weeks ago. During the process they learned new techniques such as arc welding, forgery and gas torch cutting. For many of them it is a chance to gain exposure they may not otherwise have had.

(L-R) Ouk Chim Vichet, Touun Tourneakea, Kim Samdy, Proeung Moulin, Chhay Bunna, Chea Sambo take a break outside the workshop that is being transformed into something of a steel zoo.

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