Many people choose the academic or career path they will follow with the hope that at the end of the journey there will be a highly paid job waiting for them. What they often fail to consider if that you do not have to sacrifice the things you love in order to reach financial stability. There are plenty of people in the country who love to dance, sing, draw, paint and photograph, but only a small group of people actually do these things as their life’s work.
“If you ask kids what they want to be when they grow up, almost everyone will have the typical of a doctor or a businessman,” said Nou Vichet, a student of creative technology at Limkokwing University. “I was not different, however, as I grew up, I realized there are other jobs out there that I would rather do.” Nou Vichet, who hopes to be an interior designer, is optimistic about his job prospects. “At the moment, design may still be weak in Cambodia, but in the next four or five years when I graduate, the design profession will be improved.” He added that big institutions or companies already have a high demand for designers but choose to hire foreign designers due to a lack of skilled Cambodians.
Dana Langlois, owner and director of Java Gallery in Phnom Penh, has been working with artists for10 years in Cambodia. “I’m working with contemporary artwork. In contemporary artwork, the idea is probably the most important part of the artwork, not always the technique,” she said. “Artists need to spend a lot of time developing their concepts, sometimes they need research, and more often it is taken from their personal experiences, for example love or family.”
Though Langlois said “the ultimate goal of an artist is being able to articulate their concepts and their ideas” using “good technique,” there is also the need for artists to make money to eat and contribute to their families.
According to Dana, the market in Cambodia is still small, but there is an expanding international interest in Cambodian artists. Many of the artist’s whom Dana has promoted have shown their work in Europe, Japan and other art galleries around the world.
Though the domestic demand for art is quite low, it has not always been that way. “In the 60s, arts such as drawing, sculpture, and design were thriving,” said So Chenda, Dean of Sculpture at the Royal University of Fine Arts. ” There were many famous artists. The most well-known was Professor Nhek Kim,” said So Chenda, adding that every year there are only 40 or 50 students graduating from his department because most Cambodians do not fully understand the importance of art. In order to change this, So Chenda has done various interviews on TV and radio to inspire youth’s interest in the arts.
Though it is possible to turn your passion for the arts into a career (see our artist profiles to on the next page), there are fews students who devote themselves to painting, sculpture, drawing, making music or dancing. There are a number of groups who are encouraging Cambodian youth to pursue the arts. Cambodian living arts and the Apsara Association have a variety of courses. The government has also been taking some measurements to help encourage Cambodian students to study art in universities. Kim Pich Pinun, dean of the dance department at the Royal University of Fine Arts, said, “to make people’s artwork more valuable, the Ministry of Fine Arts is starting to enhance the enforcement of copyright law.” He also explained that 100 graduates are selected every year to teach art or do art-related projects around the country by the government, but they do not get paid much.
Although there aren’t a lot of people making money from the arts in Phnom Penh, there are people who have made their talents profitable. Seng Chanthon, who owns two shops in Phnom Penh called Khmer Heart and Komnit Khmer, has been selling his art since his second year of university. Khmer Heart sells products that he made, and Komnit Khmer does interior and exterior design. “Some people come into my shop to buy the product and others come to see décor, but they are all impressed that I made all of the stuff in here,” he said.
Although there is still a small number of career artists in Cambodia, there is a growing fascination with the arts. “There are more young artists who want to express themselves either as an idea, story, or concept,” Dana Langlois said there had been improvement in Cambodia arts in the past few years.