You are the Country Director of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Cambodia. Can you describe what the organisation does?
The German Heinrich Böll Foundation works independently and nurtures a spirit of intellectual openness. We maintain a world wide network with currently 33 international offices. Key areas of our activities include the promotion of women’s rights, environmental protection and the issue of dealing with the past.
The Heinrich Böll Foundation has a global presence. What does the organisation do in Cambodia specifically?
Together with our partner organisations we are working on empowerment of women and the protection of natural resources. In addition, we support activities of Cambodian society to face their own history especially the Khmer Rouge Regime. We also support cultural events such as exhibitions or film making.
What does your role as Country Director at Heinrich Böll entail?
As the Country Director I am responsible for the overall management of the program and for reporting to our donor, the German Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development.
In your opinion, what is the biggest social issue facing Cambodia?
As in most countries worldwide the gap between women’s rights and men’s rights is a serious issue. The legal framework for gender equality exists but it has to be implemented properly.
You are also a photographer. What led you to becoming involved with the Heinrich Böll Foundation?
I am a photographer on a voluntary basis. Working for Heinrich Böll Foundation is my bread job.
You photographed Nepal’s emerging street art scene. How does Cambodia’s street art scene compare? Are there similarities?
Talking about street art there are indeed similarities between the two countries. Street Art in both countries is a way to bring art to the public sphere. Nepal and Cambodia do not have huge museums but have both a vibrant art community that expresses itself publicly.
Who is your favourite Cambodian street artist or photographer?
I like the works of Chifumi and of Koy, two very talented Cambodian street artists.
Do you think that arts and culture has a place in tackling broader social issues?
Art and culture provide the space to raise any issue that the artist is involved with. Thus it can contribute to a public debate about the form and the content of art itself.
Heinrich Böll is touted as one of the most important and best-known writers of the Federal Republic of Germany. What has been his contribution to literature?
Heinrich Böll published some of the most important novels in Germany’s post war society. In his novels he talked about poverty, the role of religion or the difficulties of the German society to deal with its horrific past. He was awarded the Nobel prize for literature in 1972.
Which Cambodian writer do you think has made a significant impact on Cambodia, whether based in Cambodia or abroad?
Loung Ung’s memoir “First they killed my father” is a very powerful piece of literature. Therefore, it is not surprising that Angelina Jolie made a film out of it.
In your opinion, what makes the Cambodian arts and culture unique?
Cambodian arts and culture are deeply rooted in the language, in Buddhism and in the traditional beliefs. In the course of centuries culture has seen many different developments and I do hope that the Cambodian society has the strength to continue with developing new forms of artistic expression, be it through music, dance, poetry, or film making.
The theme of this year’s festival is ‘courage’. What does courage mean to you? What does it mean for Cambodia?
Courage takes place on an individual level. For example, it is not easy to contradict your teacher or your parents or any superior. It needs courage. But speaking truth to power is the only possibility to stay true to oneself. This is the legacy of the German writer Heinrich Böll.