{ January 7, 2010 @ 5:03 pm }

Wow. This visit was an education in heartbreak.

You really wanna hear it? Well, it’s like this.

Daravut and Ingrid started Reyum in 1997. It used to be an Internet cafe, so they had just one wall for their displays – but they were young and energetic then, and they were determined to create a memory bank of Cambodia, employing a team of full-time researchers to archive the culture of the land (not even on a show-to-show basis, but all the bloody time). They had an art school for kids to get a sense of contemporary art, and a printing press where they put books out (children’s books, reference books, whatever), in English, French and Khmer – one of the few Khmer presses around at the time. They even got African artists and South American architects to come and lecture and teach, breaking the hegemonic paths KS talked about before. The TV station came and covered that, too.

All this they did at a loss. They’d been given money by the Rockefeller Foundation and the Prince Klaus network, so they could pay for their electricity and food and worry about the moral quandaries of teaching art and design to kids when there was little chance of getting a job out of these skills, and also insist on quality, quality in everything they presented for display and consumption. Phnom Penh deserved that.

Also, people were curious about Cambodia then. "10 years ago it was enough to be a career artist," he says. "A curator would come and say, we need 10 Cambodian artists."

Then in 2009, the Rockefeller Foundation ran dry because of the economic crisis. Ingrid also had passed away.

And since then, Daravut’s been unsure of whether he can continue the group. They’ve closed down the art school. Narrowed the researchers down to four part-timers. Put together the exhibition on measurements, which he doesn’t actually feel is very good. No plans for another exhibition after this. No knowledge of whether Reyum will survive into 2011, either.

Daravut: A lot of people come and say this is good, but we feel very isolated. And I feel very emotional because we have reached a point where we might cease to operate. We have to find a different formula, less expensive, to pay for operations.

"Personally I’ve reached a cycle," he says. 12 years since its founding, he doesn’t know if he should carry on.

This is the first area of Cambodian culture that’s looking despairing rather than hopeful as we’re stepping into the country. From KS’s intro, I’m not even sure if he was expecting this.

If you’re in Cambodia, stop by their place. Try and support them. God knows they need it.

Ng Yi-Sheng