Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Bringing Cambodian art and culture to the youth

Bringing Cambodian art and culture to the youth

Lomorpich Rithy: young Cambodians need to learn more about their culture – both ancient and modern.
Lomorpich Rithy: young Cambodians need to learn more about their culture – both ancient and modern. Athena Zelandonii

Bringing Cambodian art and culture to the youth

Fewer young people are studying fine arts, instead drawn to courses that promise better earnings. The result, say some – a deficit of cultural knowledge.

If two youths are walking down the street, one with a guitar and one with a traditional instrument, people will look at the one with the traditional instrument and ask, ‘What are you doing?’”

Young people view Cambodian art as something for old people, as “old fashioned”, says 24-year-old Lomorpich Rithy at KE Café in Phnom Penh this week, where she has organised a month-long showcase for young artists.

In 2011, she took part in an exchange program to Japan in which participants were asked to make presentations on the arts and culture of their respective countries. It made her realise how little she knew compared to others who “at least knew a few songs and dances” from their homelands.

It motivated her to create the now three-year-old Bonn Phum (Village Arts Festival) and to found the Plerng Kob (Campfire) community for young artists.

Lomorpich fears that if young people do not embrace traditional arts and advance them, that culture will be lost. This issue, which is the focus of a talk she will give at the Nowhere Art Gallery on Tuesday, “comes from the way we are learning”.

Morm Picheret, who will perform at Young Artists@K.E.
Morm Picheret, who will perform at Young [email protected] Athena Zelandonii

“There’s very little in terms of arts and culture in the national education system – compared to Thailand, where they have club activities; we only have books to read . . . Also, [in the] media, you turn on the TV and there are no culture or art shows; just pop music that copies songs, and there is less educational programming.”

Social and financial pressures also conspire to push students away from studying the arts.

Samphors “Errandly” Tes, 22, says her family pressured her to forgo arts in favour of banking and finance, her current major at Zaman University. Nonetheless, she co-founded a graphic design company in which she has put both of her skill sets to use.

“I love art – that’s why I’m trying to find a way to keep doing something I like,” she says.

Teng Pisey, a Grade 11 traditional dance student at the public Secondary School of Fine Arts, says when she began her course in Grade 4 there were more than 30 students in her program.

“Now, there are only three people in my class. I love arts and I will continue my studies at RUFA [the Royal University of Fine Arts] majoring in traditional dance,” she says, adding that she nonetheless intends to pursue law studies as well to secure a stable job.

“Some of my friends said to me that their parents pressure them to quit school because they think that being an artist makes it difficult to find a job,” Pisey says.

Seng Kakada, a Year 12 sculpture student, says his class size dropped from 64 to 20 students in his time at the school.

“The art market is small,” he says, adding that his former classmates’ parents “do not value art”.

All of the students Post Weekend spoke to say their teachers have other careers to supplement their income.

According to data provided by the school, the total number of enrolled students dropped nearly 12 per cent, from 1,033 to 912, in the past year.

Bun Heang, the vice principal of the Secondary School of Fine Arts, says enrollment has been declining “from year to year”.

“The reason that the rate is going down is the question of future careers,” he says, adding that the Lakhorn and circus faculties have suffered the most.

Heang says the school has tried to put recordings of student performances on television, but simply cannot afford to do so.

And, he says, the number of students going on to study at RUFA is also decreasing, and that families with means opt to enroll their children in alternate fields of study.

Teng Pisey, who is studying traditional dance.
Teng Pisey, who is studying traditional dance. Athena Zelandonii

Renowned Cambodian artist Em Riem, a RUFA graduate who also teaches art at a private university in Phnom Penh, believes that the style of teaching is also a contributory factor in dissuading students from furthering their arts education and developing a depth of knowledge in the traditional arts.

“It’s extremely strict. There needs to be a dialogue between the teacher and the student for the artist to develop,” he says, adding that success requires “work, work, work, like Rihanna said”.

Chy Rotha, the head of academic affairs at RUFA, says contemporary art programs at the university do have a higher degree of flexibility, but notes that rigorous instruction is key when it comes to learning the traditional arts.

“For traditional dance, there are norms that students must follow. Students cannot dance based on what they think. For architecture, the teacher encourages students to initiate their thinking and encourages creativity . . . so it depends on what major they are taking,” he says.

However, for Lomorpich, this split approach is problematic, as the old needs to be learned before creating the new.

“Before there is a Cambodian contemporary dance, you need to know the traditional kind,” she says.

“The arts need support from the government, or some encouragement at least through showcasing at festivals,” she adds.

Superficially recognising the rich and storied culture of Angkor and Cambodia, she says, is not enough.

“Have we built anything better? Have we danced any better?”

Lomorpich Rithy will be speaking at Nowhere, #3Eo Street 312 on August 9 at 7pm. $3 entry goes towards the 5k Riel Campaign to preserve Cambodian Shadow Puppet-making. Young Artists @ K.E. will feature showcases of photography, painting, digital arts and fashion every weekend through the first week of September at K.E. Café and Lounge, #739 Street 128.

MOST VIEWED

  • Ministry requests school opening

    The Ministry of Education, Youth and Sport on Thursday said it would request a decision from Prime Minister Hun Sen to allow a small number of schools to reopen next month. Ministry spokesman Ros Soveacha said if the request is granted, higher-standard schools will reopen

  • Kingdom eyes India FTA, China deal set for August

    Cambodia is studying the possibility of establishing a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) with India to open a new market with the second-largest regional economy. This comes as an FTA with China is scheduled to be signed next month while similar negotiations with South Korea

  • Judge lands in court after crashing into alleged thief

    Sen Sok district police on Thursday sent a Koh Kong Provincial Court judge to the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on manslaughter charges after he crashed his car into a woman riding a motorbike on Wednesday, killing her. District police chief Hour Meng Vang told The

  • Preah Vihear court drops charges against villagers

    The Preah Vihear Provincial Court has dropped all charges against eight ethnic Kuoy villagers who were in a land dispute with the Hengfu Group Sugar Industry Co Ltd since 2014. Wednesday’s decision was made by the judge who tried the case on June 10. The eight

  • Gov’t to boost Siem Reap tourism

    The Ministry of Tourism released the results of an inter-ministerial committee meeting concerning Siem Reap province’s Tourism Development Master Plan for 2020-2035 on Wednesday, revealing the government’s plan to improve the overall tourist landscape there. The meeting was attended by Minister of Tourism

  • Residents ordered to remove structures on Phnom Penh’s canal

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng has ordered authorities to act against the perpetrators who built houses along the Luo 5 canal in Meanchey district. The municipal administration plans to create a committee to solve the matter. The order was given on Wednesday while Sreng led

  • ‘On the offensive’: Cambodia to load up on loans to stimulate economy

    As the dust settles on the economy, Cambodia comes to grips with what needs to be done to turn the economy around, starting with a big shopping list for credit ‘We are going on the offensive,” Vongsey Vissoth, Ministry of Economy and Finance permanent secretary

  • Eighty replacement peacekeepers set for Mali mission despite Covid

    Eighty Cambodian blue helmet soldiers who completed the peacekeeping mission under the UN umbrella in Mali will return to Cambodia on Friday, said the Centre for Peacekeeping Forces spokeswoman Kosal Malida. “To protect their families and communities from the Covid-19 pandemic, the 80 are required to

  • Government set to make up for cancelled April holiday

    The government is set to make up for a five-day Khmer New Year holiday late this month or early next month. The holiday was earlier cancelled due to the onset of Covid-19. The announcement is expected on Friday as the government is studying a range

  • Families told to register for cash handouts

    The government has called on poor families to apply to commune authorities for evaluation to receive financial support during the Covid-19 crisis. A $300 million budget has been planned for implementation within a year. Ministry of Economy and Finance secretary of state Vongsey Visoth said this