Exhibition Helps Rediscover Culture
By: Ann Creevey. Picture Courtesy of Krousar Thmey. ( October, 2001 Volume 1 No.5 )

The waters of the Tonle Sap Lake support millions of Cambodians. They are rich in fish, their flood planes support rice and other crops, and the waters that flow into it down the Siem Reap River are home to the gods of Phnom Kulen. Now a new exhibition organized by non-government organization Krousar Thmey specifically about the Tonle Sap Lake will travel the country helping Khmers understand just how pivotal this massive body of water is to their culture. "Between 1970 and 1991, for 21 years, there was no communication between people here," Krousar Thmey communications manager Florent Combeaux explained. He said continuing civil war followed by massive displacement of the population disrupted the way Khmers learn about themselves and their country. Khmers have traditionally passed information down from generation to generation orally and local people keep local traditions and folklore alive. "After 1991 we were faced with children who had grown up in refugee camps who had to be taught how rice grew _ they thought it came out of UN emergency ration bags. People there lost an enormous amount of heritage in that period," he said. Krousar Thmey believes that exhibitions like this are a tool which can be used to help people here re-appropriate their culture. The organization first initiated a traveling exhibition along these lines in 1994.
The aim is to provide information in an accessible, user-friendly format, not only to Cambodians but all visitors, for free. The 1994 exhibition, "Cambodia, a people, a culture" was visited by more than 125,000 children before it finally settled permanently in Battambang, Cambodia's second city, about 290 kilometers north of Phnom Penh and now receives an average of 70 visitors a day.

Krousar Thmey is expecting at least as many people to view the Tonle Sap exhibition. Krousar Thmey translates as New Family in English. The NGO is probably best known for its child welfare programs. "But Krousar Thmey actually operates in three key areas," Mr Combeaux said. "Child welfare, educational and schooling support and cultural and artistic development." All projects are run by Cambodians for Cambodians. Of the organization's 180 employees, only four, who provide assist in overseeing financial and communications areas, are not Khmer. "For this project, we enlisted the help of former students of the Royal University of Fine Arts," Mr Combeaux said. About 20 boards at the exhibition provide visitors with information about the area in Khmer, French and English. Drawings, maps, pictures and text tell visitors about everything from the ecological resources of the region to legends and religious beliefs associated with it.

There are also videos and interactive displays. The exhibition is a way to help people in the rediscovery of their culture and through that their own identity. "This is a whole way of life. Millions of people live off this lake," Mr Combeaux said. Although Krousar Thmey especially hopes children visit this exhibition, and will run transport from local schools in each area the display stops at so local children can visit it more easily, the organizers also value adult participation. "It's important to get adults involved for their own realization and to dispatch the message to young Khmers," Mr Combeaux said. Tourists and expatriates are also very welcome and the display provides an informative supplement to a visit to Angkor Wat. Water and irrigation was at the heart of the Angkorean empire and the elements of water and religion are inextricably mixed in any study of Angkor. The Exhibition on the Tonle Sap is currently on display in Siem Reap. It is located about 150 meters before the ticket booth for the Angkor complex, on the right hand side. It is free and opens daily. In the coming months, a second, mobile exhibition is expected to visit provincial towns including Kampong Cham, Pursat, Battambang, Poi Pet and Sisophon. For further information regarding the exhibition or Krousar Thmey, telephone 023 366 184 or 023 880 503 or visit the Krousar Thmey website at http://www.krousar-thmey.org.