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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exhibition on Khmer culture to tour country

Exhibition on Khmer culture to tour country

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.

"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

own culture."

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.

Krousar Thmey,

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

Phnom Penh.

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