Mekong Cultural Hub

Curated conferences “ARTISTIC ACTION IN PRACTICE IN THE MEKONG REGION”: Sharing from participants

Mekong Cultural Hub invites you to meet six art and cultural practitioners from five countries (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Philippines, and Thailand) who have been exchanging on the Curated conference topic “Artistic Action in Practice in the Mekong Region”. Over the past six months they have been working with curator Chung Shefong from Taiwan to try to encapsulate some urgent issues in the Mekong region and to generate dialogue about their practices. As they get ready for the Meeting Point’s public program next week, let’s see what they have to share…

Phina So is the Manager of the Knowledge Networks and Policy Program at Cambodian Living Arts, a writer and poet. She is a co-founder of Slap Paka Khmer, an informal writer’s collective which mission is to provide opportunity and platform for writers to express their literary creativity, co-founder of Kampu Mera editions – through which she and her peers have published three anthologies, a historical novel, and two translation books, and in 2017 she founded the Khmer Literature Festival.

“In my point of view, artistic actions in the Mekong region are diverse and have a rich history behind, yet face a similar narrative. Before joining this program, I thought artistic action in the Mekong is new and is influenced from somewhere. Listening to all the presentations in my group, I realised that artistic action in the Mekong region is quite diverse to its artistic forms. For example, Morlam form has been used to critique and express views toward something. This led me to confirm that Chapey, as an art form, plays the same roles in Cambodia. Chapey artists use the instruments and their lyrics to express opinions toward various society issues. 

Artistic actions in the Mekong face censorship and life-threatening harassment and punishment from the powerful. The actions are varied in each country. In Myanmar and Thailand are seen more active while in Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos are less active. However, I believe that artistic actions, despite small or big, exist. 

Participating in his topic helps me to reflect on the poetic message that I have been exploring. I have been writing metaphoric poetry in order to escape from censorship which has become more serious in Cambodia.”

Thanom CHAPAKDEE is the founder of Khon Kaen Manifesto and a critical voice in the contemporary art landscape of Thailand. He is one of Thailand’s most respected and feared art critics – and an artist himself.

That’s a great opportunity to join our friends who work very hard in art and culture activist movement in Mekong region also in South East Asia. My point of view, we have strong connections with art and culture roots and background in each boundary. There are similarities in this region, such as folklore,music,lyric of poetry,and performance which deals with ordinary modes of life of people. I very much appreciate and enjoy all of our friends using the art & culture to pave the way for artistic practice and taking action in/with communities at large.

As Artistic Practice and Action is a very appropriate method to creating the tactical movement in the society and community which is dominated by neo-liberal and sophistication of capitalism. Of course we are facing many problems during our movement such as censorship both from the state and self censorship,clashing with conservative and liberal movement,community fragmentation, etc.

I really much enjoy working with the community base as artistic practice and artistic action to learn from people’s perspective and using a new media as a tool to contribute to the process of artistic movement and everyone could be artistic creativity.

Thet Oo Maung (Stephen) is a dedicated humanitarian, self-taught painter, photographer and videographer. He has used his camera skills to amplify the voices of those who have been maligned, forgotten about, or silenced. He is now organizing and running the “One Step Film Forum”. Thet Oo Maung is of Kayin-Armenian descent.

This is a great journey for me. I’ve been learning and inspiring from each individual at the same time I could share my experiences and thoughts openly. I’ve learned the struggle for Rights, Justice and advocating through art from each country. I am moved by the poetry, performance, even from lawmakers in the group meetings.

Along the journey, my life experience in Myanmar is changing a lot from the beginning. The military coup in the country shaked my life and brought many unexpected changes. But I’ve got a lot of positive energy from the group. I’ve learned the similar struggle of fighting for Rights and Justice with art in the region plus Taiwan and Philippines. It brings new creative ideas and thoughts to me when I am making films and video art. It helps me to reflect on my work too.”

Namthipkesone Bouttasing (Dorn) – Founder and Director of Green Community Volunteers, which runs its activities as volunteers. She has special interests in conducting research, making short films and documentaries that tell the stories of local people and particularly women in remote area.

“From my point of view – Artistic Action in Practice is:

A movement of advocating on the politic in a less sensitive way of representing the actions of the state in the opposite of the propaganda, but showing the reality of the impacts from the state action.

A soft and also very dangerous tool to educate or to mobilize people to show them what is really going on, so the people are willing to stand up and be aware of what is going on.

It is directly related to my practice – we film, we document and we let photos speak by itself. We organize an open-air exhibition – this lets the photo speak by itself; we run a Food forest to gather the community to discuss and update what is going on.”

Miko Lagman (Miko) came from the Philippines. She is a licensed teacher by profession; being an Instructional Manager under the Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System program, where she facilitate classes for out-of-school youth and adults in Manila. She is also a producer and researcher. The projects she works on are stories about human resilience and empowerment amidst adversity, through documentaries and advocacy videos.

For me, Artistic Action in practice is a kind of movement wherein cultural practitioners find creative ways to share and present their work, especially during times of censorship, oppression and harassment.

After listening to the different presentations from our group, I learned how to look at these artistic actions in a new light: from using poetic language and imagery, to using graffiti art as a creative resistance, to executing an open-air photo exhibition. These creative actions are, in a way, familiar to me, and yet my groupmates taught me how to appreciate it more in a different perspective. It also reiterated the idea that we have shared similarities; using art in order to present critical and timely stories about what is really happening in our respective countries. And for someone coming from a country outside the Mekong region, I now have a better understanding on how creative practitioners from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand find ways to navigate around the tricky ordeal of social, political and art activism.

As for the conference topic, it is relevant to my work as a documentary researcher and producer. It helped me reflect about my role as a creative; how can I challenge myself to think out of the box, or even think that there is no box when it comes to finding and presenting stories about humanity, resilience and empowerment.

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla  is a lawyer working in the Human rights field since 2001. She has been especially involved with justice issues in the Southern border provinces and is the coordinator of Community Resource Centre (CRC), an NGO based in Thailand which is a local partner of the Asian Human Right Commission (AHRC) based in Hong Kong. She graduated from the Faculty of Law at Thammasat University, Bangkok.

Grace Hong (b. Singapore) received her MA in Research and BA (Hon.) in English Literature and Art History from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore. She joined the Curated conference: Artistic Action in Practice in the Mekong Region as a Creative Interpreter.

One Day 2 and Day 3 of the Meeting Point, the group will bring their insight of six-month exchanges to a wider audience. To join them – please register HERE