Cambodian and Vietnamese artists swapped tales of censorship and cultural constraints on Friday, as they described difficulties they face in their respective countries.
In a public discussion held at Java Cafe, they spoke dispassionately for more than two hours of the reality they have to contend with in order to create.
In Vietnam, government control keeps on getting in the way of art, said Vietnamese artist Richard Streitmatter-Tran.
An authorization is required for any event or exhibition that may attract more than 25 people, he said. Photos or sketches of the artwork must be submitted to the authorities, who check them for content, he said.
The conventional is also the rule at the Ho Chi Minh City University of Fine Arts, said Vietnamese artist Bui Cong Khanh. “They keep on doing the old style from Russia—black on white,” he said, who recalled being threatened with low marks at first if he painted a nude of a woman for an examination.
While Cambodia was under Vietnamese control in the 1980s, artwork also had to be aligned with government policy, said Cambodian photographer Mak Remissa. Today, artists even have the freedom to criticize the authorities in their art, although they face a strong restriction of a different nature: traditionalism, he said.
When Cambodian artist Leang Seckon depicted a beer promotion girl as an apsara, he said, “My relatives were very concerned—they said I was disrupting traditional culture.”
When given the opportunity to do contemporary rather than conventional art, students at the Royal University of Fine Arts enjoy it, said painter and RUFA teacher Suos Sodavy. However, they are convinced that, unless they paint Angkor Wat, they will not earn a living with their work, he said.
Not so, said 74-year-old contemporary painter Svay Ken. “People must dare,” he said.
Students learn technique at RUFA but don’t develop a global approach to art for lack of exposure to art history and work from other countries, said Ouk Socheathy, a ceramic teacher at RUFA’s School of Plastic Arts.
The event was meant as an opportunity to “open the border of the mind” between Cambodian and Vietnamese artists, explained Leang Seckon.