SIEM REAP - "Cambodia: The People, The Culture," is a
touring exhibition aimed at making Khmer children aware of the diversity and
richness of their heritage and society.
Organised by Krousar Thmey, a
French-Cambodian organisation led by Benoit Duchateau-Arminjon, it opened in
Siem Reap's Einkosey Pagoda on 3 January. In the next year the team will take it
to 18 provinces where an estimated 200,000 young people will see
"It's for children aged between 10 and 16," said Guillaume Argand, a
volunteer from France who has helped set it up. "It will teach them about their
They will learn through pictures rather than inter-active
displays. There are 15 panels with 500 photographs, including maps, watercolors,
photocopies of old engravings and postcards, together with several dance
costumes, tools and a small model village. They range over every aspect of life
in Cambodia, from history and natural resources to religions, arts and the
evolution of its society.
It has taken two years to accumulate the
material, donated by photographers, and museums. Jean-Marie Le Guay, one of the
organisers from Krousar Thmey, collected many old postcards and photos from
French antique markets. He emphasised Krousar Thmey's earlier success at the
Thai border camp, Site 2, when 35,000 refugee children were shown pictorial
displays of their country and its customs.
Two decades of war destroyed
not only the country's entire infrastructure, claims Nouth Narang, the Minister
of Culture and Fine Arts, but also gravely undermined its whole cultural
foundation. He praised the idea of the exhibition: "It is the affirmation of
Khmer identity, a factor in the cohesion and stability on which all forms of
socio-economic development rest."
But, in spite of its laudable
intentions, the exhibition lacks focus. Showing children pictures of rice
paddies, which they see every day, or photographs of Angkor Wat, whose images
are all over Cambodia, will entertain them, providing a respite from the
ubiquitous video. But will they challenge children to think?
It does not
question what relevance Angkor Wat has to young peoples' lives today. How should
they use their knowledge of an empire that existed hundreds of years ago? It
does not relate an elite art form such as classical dance, created exclusively
for the royal court, to contemporary culture whose leitmotiv is Tiger Beer.
Would it not have been valuable to present Khmer culture in relation to the rest
of the world as well as to the past?
However, for educationally-deprived
children, seldom exposed to such a wealth of pictures, it will undoubtedly show
them images they have never seen. "Children are thirsty for knowledge," points
out Michelle Uthurry, a teacher with Enfants du Cambodge. "In the countryside
they are starved of visual material. They respond enthusiastically because they
see so little."
Mom Chim Huy, Minister of Education, Youth and Sports,
believes that the exhibition will contribute to education, showing "national
values of preceding generations to young Cambodian children with a view to
preparing a brilliant future for their country."
Financed by Terre des
Hommes, the show has been encouraged and supported by a number of French and
Khmer personalities, The Red Cross, UNICEF, NGOs such as Handicap International
and institutions ranging from the Centre Culturel Francais to the Ecole
Francaise d'Extreme Orient and the School of Fine Arts.
whose name means New Family, is concerned not only with education but in helping
the many streetchildren in Cambodia, running two orphanages, in Siem Reap and