Cambodians work through traumas in art

November 2008 -

Metahouse in Phnom Penh is one of the few art institutions in Cambodia attempting to use art to help the people of Cambodia work through their traumatic past. Metahouse has already organised two Art of Survival expositions with work by local and foreign artists in which the atrocities of the Red Khmer regime play a part.


"Older Cambodians find it difficult to view the work, while the younger generation has trouble understanding that the pieces are about what really happened in Cambodia in the period 1975-1979", explains manager Lydia Parusol. The genocide tribunals against the Red Khmer leaders have rekindled interest in Cambodia for the blackest period in the country’s history: the reign of terror under Pol Pot that cost the lives of at least 1.7 million people. In general, working through the past has not yet earned a place in Cambodian art.

Parusol: "Commercial artists want to forget their past. They would rather paint the cheap sunsets and patty fields that the tourists want to buy. Cambodia’s true art scene is concentrating on the country’s current social problems like the environment and property theft." Cambodia’s biggest problem is the fact that ninety percent of the artists either left the country or were killed by the Pol Pot regime. With its initiatives, Metahouse hopes to rekindle culture. "We organise workshops, and we are the first Cambodian centre for video and media art. We also provide training for filmmakers and journalists", Parusol explains.

"Through education, international exchanges and group expositions, we give young artists the opportunity to develop. We teach them to be curious and to ask questions – things not commonly seen in contemporary Cambodia." Metahouse is planning on sending Art of Survival on a world tour in 2009. "Our target audience includes Cambodians still living in exile, for example, in France, Australia and the United States. We also hope, with assistance from international funds, to show The Art of Survival in countries that also have a history of genocide, like Germany, former Yugoslavia and Rwanda."