I read with some concern the comments from Prime Minister Hun Sen calling for Khmer artists to refrain from using "other countries' styles" in books, films and songs ("Hun Sen decries reliance on foreign styles in the arts", July 23, 2009).
I understand the wish for Khmer culture to be encouraged and preserved. No one wants Khmer culture to disappear. Outside influences from other parts of Asia have always enhanced Khmer culture. The Hindu culture of the ancient Khmer came from the Indian subcontinent. Over the centuries, Khmer culture has been influenced by China, Indonesia, Vietnam, Thailand and, more recently, Europe and America. This has spread both ways, with Khmer art influencing large parts of Southeast Asia and being widely known throughout the world.
Cambodia, like many places in the region, is a microcosm of world culture. Culture is the lifeblood of any nation, and it's the influences from abroad that have shaped it. Compared to neighbouring countries, the Cambodian government and people preserve their culture and heritage well.
But what is culture? I have been told by many Khmers that the loud music at parties and weddings is part of Cambodian culture, that karaoke, Khmer rock music and television soaps are the culture of today. Modern Khmer artists and photographers have been producing very exciting and creative work blending old and new.
It may not be to everyone's taste. But today's art and entertainment will become tomorrow's heritage. Diversity should be encouraged, not derided.
What happens in modern art today will not change the wonderful culture and art of the past.
Do we want a Cambodia that is vibrant, creative and fun? Or do we want people here to live in a museum?
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