Orphans Learn About Art and Unity

There was one person, who had AIDS and five persons that did not have AIDS. The five were playing, but they would not let the person with AIDS join them. They told him: No, you have AIDS. Then he cried.

That was the story line in Peisei Chhang’s short film. A film about himself; a slim, good-looking boy, 14 years old with black hair, dyed in the ends and lots of hair spray to keep the spiky, snazzy do in place.

“That happened to me before in my old school. The other children would say: ‘We do not like him, he is sick, his mother is sick’,” he explained, without sounding particularly affected of his own story. On the contrary, he said, he was happy, because he liked making the autobiographic short film as a part of the traveling exhibition Banyan Project.

This weekend, Peisei was at the Meta House, where the Banyan Project is located these days, along with almost 60 other children from age 6 and up. There were children from three different places, Wat Opot Family Center, where Peisei has lived for the last three years, Sunrise House and New Future for Children. His film was just one piece of art produced within the Banyan Project and the children were gathered here to learn about art and conclude the experience with performances, exhibition and games.

Traveling artist Alfred Banze and project manager Nicholas Mesterharm, both German, greeted the children at the Meta House, excited to see the different groups mix. Before the meeting they had held workshops at two of the participating orphanages. For three days, the children worked on whatever piece of art they felt like making, with the help of Banze, Cambodian artist Sokuntevy Oeur and Finnish filmmaker Juhani Koivumaki. The focus was to come together about the art, Banze explained, not about the actual outcome. Like Peisei, who had expressed interest in making a movie, many of the children had other ways of letting out their creativity. Thus, the Banyan project is a growing collection of pictures, paintings, music, dances, media montages scattered in orphanages, street shelters and homes all over the world. The exhibition at the Meta House was art from over 70 artists for the children to see and be inspired by.

“What the children get out of the Banyan project depend on the group. We have all been part of a very intensive process and the children have the experience of coming together and making something happen, “Alfred said, referring to the Banyan Project’s main theme: The same thing happens again and again all over the world and binds together different peoples through art. For every picture, film or song, the children produce there may be another artist somewhere working on something that matches that piece. Behind the German artist at the Meta House, a big screen showed him carrying out workshops in places like Laos, Argentine and Africa.

“It is interesting to see how you can put a little thing together and thus form a larger concept,” he said and added that it was now up the children and the orphanages to manage the Banyan Project.

Peisei, who has lost both his parents to AIDS and now lives with the disease himself said he liked attending the work shop last week and also enjoyed seeing Banzes exhibition at the Meta House. But he did not see his film as a piece of the larger concept Banze’s was talking about. To him, the project was much more concrete:

“I want to continue making movies. For my future,” he said.



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