Although I have heard a lot about this wide concept of “community arts”, little did I know my practices had anything to do with such disciplines. Yet, I applied for Mekong Cultural Hub’s call for “Community Collaboration Experiment” in last April. You got it right: an “experiment”, not a “project”, as I have “implemented in the past few years, especially through Let’s Document Cambodia. Somehow, I have linked it up with this “experiment” as its extra layer! From these virtual and physical sessions, I have learned five main lessons from our Facilitators.
1- Transaction Vs Relationship
By “transaction”, I meant we conducted our training or shooting, in exchange for certain output from the community, with little relevancy of their issues. This approach, I’d consider logical in its own terms, as the surface of a local issue can be exposed to a wider audience later, as testified in our latest documentaries shot in Kampong Thom. It was in the same community, Chonghor Knaa, which I worked “with” this time around, as to narrow down my methodology. As I gained more time to map out their subtle concerns and hear their voices closer, I learned something new like the chronic clash between the indigenous community and their Khmer neighbors over land demarcation!
2- A Community is Us, not I or You!
This goes without saying that a “community” is collective by nature as it should condense different individuals into a common course or cause. Well, as I learned about down-to-earth experience of some documentary makers, I savored this myself, especially when going to the court with my Kouy ethnic fellows! This, for instance, was not part of my plans! Yet, since this experiment made for my learning process, I might as well go with the flow. As a result, they opened up more to me on many latent issues and involved me in their routines like commutation and land visits.
3- Time Will Tell (More)
Despite my meditation practices, I didn’t yet eliminate my “rush” mindset just the sake of “productivity”! During our experiment presentation, I felt a bit disappointed that the indigenous youth team we trained in storyboarding, could not complete their next storyboard in due time. I was then advised to follow up a bit more closely and be patient. Eventually, this patience paid off by the time of our reflection session: they did send me the storyboard they drew on their own! This result came at the cost of a withdrawn member and their commitments with daily living and other projects.
4- Mutual Inspirations
Out of many conversations and interactions came our mutual inspirations. After I introduced them to the “Problem Tree” and “SWOT” analysis, they realized they could solve some of their community issues using such tables! In turn, after brainstorming with them on the story for each member to make, I learned that indigenous communities have “preserved” – if not contained – countless untold stories about their daily life, from resin harvest to snail hunts! Are you looking for more online content? You’re reading some now!
5- Open Up to Possibilities
When it comes to possibilities, these won’t happen until one opens up! As mentioned, I didn’t expect myself to attend a court’s hearing. I was also warned about my schedule clash with another NGO’s gathering with the same community. Day 2 morning of our class was replaced with our visits to the controversial land boundaries. As rewarding things turned out, I explored the depth of their intertwined deadlocks, which I couldn’t otherwise have found.
In short, “community arts” redirect my practices toward a more inclusive approach, of course, with deepened layers across stakeholders, including myself. If I keep standing in my square, I will only see mine. I’ll see more when moving to other people’s circles, especially those restrained with more constraints than I have.
PS: The catch is, my advanced course in Seoul, early this December, organized by KOFICE, was highlighted with “community arts education“, part of the current Korean soft power!