On a sweltering 39-degree day, the high-ceilinged, chequerboard-tiled studios of the Royal University of Fine Arts don’t provide much respite from the heat, but for 150 visitors crowded around the students’ drawings and building models, it is barely a distraction.
Over three days, more than 2,000 people visited the vibrant turn-of-the-century grounds for a one-stop showcase of new work from the Kingdom’s oldest public arts college.
The open day was the first collective exhibition from the university in at least a decade, organisers say, and was entirely student-led.
“I care about our culture and the students’ ability,” said fourth-year architecture student Lor Vuthy, 23, who initiated the exhibition. The university doesn’t have a student union, but it does have elected student representatives, who ran the idea past the school management and were met with support from their teachers. More than 100 volunteers helped run the event, with local sponsors providing money for things like lights and staging equipment for the night time music and dance performance.
Architecture lecturer Dr Tang Sochet Vitou, who studied at RUFA in the 1990s, said to his knowledge there had only been one other similar “little” exhibition in the recent history of the school and that he was delighted to see the students take on the project, which ran from 8am to 8pm every night.
Yesterday, the final of the program, saw students from across the faculties of Archaeology, Architecture, Fine Arts, Choreo-graphy and Music display their work in the open outdoor corridors and elegant shuttered classrooms. In a shady vestibule, an acoustic duo sang gently, while nearby third year archaeology students manned tables exhibiting sixth century pots and ancient bricks. Competing with their fellow fine arts and architecture students, with their miniature buildings and large canvases, archaeology might be thought harder to make come alive on a display table. But an enormous skeleton of a trei reach fish, found in the Tonle Sap, creates interest and leads to a discussion over its endangered status.
Greeting visitors at the entrance to the exhibition, first-year architecture students Yeng Serey Roth Peng Kim Cchon use their English skills to explain their university’s five curricula to foreign visitors, before guiding them into the hive of activity that is the architecture show room.
Across the hall, visitors and fellow students teem around intricate scale-model houses and wild developments. A pink-marshmallow-coloured children’s play centre inspired by Super Mario Bros sits next to a new space-age airport for Sihanoukville and a restaurant-cum-bookshop, shaped to look like a coffee cup.
On the walls, points out Vitou, one can see the progression of the draftsmanship: from traditional decorative designs learned in first year, to the third years’ accomplished architectural drawings of Angkorian temples and clay carvings. Designs for both are extraordinarily detailed − the ancient and modern mix sit side-by-side in apparent harmony. Across the courtyard in the fine art room, a mass dot drawing of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk contrasts with colourful impressionistic portraits.
The three-day event, which began on Friday, has been a success, declared Roth and “the mission” is to throw open the doors of the school in a similar way next year.
“We wish to create this exhibition every year – and we want to make it better!” she said.