The top floor of the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Cambodia was packed for the
preview of the Peace of Art Project Cambodia, in which young Cambodian artists are
transforming disabled weapons into works of art.
Great project, but where were the artists?
Why would anyone launch an art project and exclude the artists? Surely the media
would have liked an opportunity to meet them.
Why was it a 'foreign' media launch? Did this imply only foreign persons? Local English
language media were invited, so why not Khmer media?
This was an unrepeatable opportunity in Cambodia's capital city to show the Cambodian
face of the project to assembled media who represent global networks.
When questioned on why the artists were not present, the project spokesman from the
EU said: "We didn't think there would be room."
Another said: "We didn't think they would come. They wouldn't feel comfortable.
They wouldn't understand what was going on."
Not good enough. When one receives an invitation, one has choice. And when it comes
to language barriers we are all equal.
The artists should be the VIP guests. Why not choose a bigger venue, one where they
could feel welcome?
The event also served as a presentation of the affiliated "Flames of Peace"
project in which the EU persuades Cambodians to give up their guns and conducts public
Similarly, none of the Cambodian development workers who have worked on this project
were in attendance. In fact, the only Khmers in the room (with perhaps two exceptions)
were serving us beer.
To exclude their Cambodian colleagues, who had presumably done the bulk of the work,
displayed to me a lack of respect for the contribution they have made. It implies
the work is being done "to" them, rather than "with" them.
It would be nice to think that NGOs have evolved in the past ten years and are working
alongside the Cambodian population rather than attempting to solve their problems
But last week's event smacked of neo-colonialism. To fill a room with white people
congratulating themselves on their good work, without inviting the Cambodians who
had actually done the work, was just plain bad taste. It was disrespectful to both
the artists and the audience. I was embarrassed to be part of it.