Day 6

Art from a different perspective

By Marianna Edmunds | Mar 23, 2011

Another long and productive day in Phnom Penh chasing down our story, interviewing young Cambodian artists who are creating a new cultural identity for their country, still emerging from a tragic legacy.

That legacy was brought home to us by our first visit of the day: the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), a 15-year old independent research institute whose mission is ‘memory and justice’ in documenting Cambodia’s recent history.  DC-Cam is the largest repository of Khmer Rouge documents, including thousands of biographies, photographs, maps of mass graves and prisons of the country’s four-year genocide during the 1970s. This Documentation Center gave us pause, putting our work in profiling the artistic and social efforts of Cambodia’s young people in real perspective. I knew I would come back here.

From DC-Cam, we moved on to meet a young singing group of 20-something women, called Messenger Band. They are young women from the garment industry, a major one in Cambodia, who, out of a common bond, came together to sing. They travel around the country like troubadours singing songs they’ve composed and recorded, about the garment industry, sex-trafficking, and land grabbing. A lively, dynamic, amusing, and irreverent group, they are like Bob Dylan meets the Dixie Chicks.

We met the group in their recording studio where five of them they sat on the floor poring over their songs for hours for their new CD. The space was cramped, the light minimal, but the voices were undaunted and strong in their message calling for parity, respect and justice in the garment industry and for women in society at large. Theirs was a novel form of art and social awareness in today’s Cambodia.

Next stop was a visit to Tiny Toones, an organization that motivates street kids, homeless, orphaned, or otherwise abandoned teens, to turn their lives around through break-dancing and school. Founded seven years ago by a dynamic and colorful Cambodian-American break-dancer, Tuy Sobil, known as KK, who was born in a Thai refugee camp, and today devotes himself to giving the street kids of Phnom Penh a second chance. More than 500 street kids cycle through Tiny Toones every year.

We invited several of the student-teachers to interview for the film as an example of young people finding their identity through the arts in a different way. They were cautious but receptive; by time we left, three of them, Flip, Kaa, and Homey, agreed to be filmed and tell their stories. We left feeling charged and humbled by what these particular emergent artists are accomplishing out of extraordinary and difficult  conditions.

At the end of this day, we realized we have a long way to go to nail down this story, but a good bowl of noodles and fish with some special Cambodian green tea put a satisfying cap on a full and rich day.

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