As a co-founder of Sa Sa Art Projects, Lyno Vuth is helping to shape, inspire and inform a generation of artists. Words by Marissa Carruthers; photography by Enric Català

What is Sa Sa Art Projects?

We started Sa Sa Art Projects in 2010 because we wanted to do something other than exhibition making. We wanted to engage with and share contemporary art with local audiences by experimenting with different models of art engagement. This includes art classes, workshops, residencies and collaboration. The White Building became our choice of home because of its historical significance as an experimental public housing project, but also as an especially dynamic urban community of both artists and everyday ordinary people.

How has it evolved since then?

We have tested different models, and for the past couple of years have come to concentrate on our artist residency programme – currently the only regular residency programme in the country – art classes and collaborative projects with students, artists and creative practitioners in Cambodia and beyond, as well as residents at the White Building. The residents are both our audience and sometimes participating artists in projects. Our team has expanded from Stiev Selapak members [creative collective of Vuth, Khvay Samnang and Lim Sokchanlina] to include our former student and community organisers who live or work at the White Building. They co-shape Sa Sa Art Projects’ vision and programming.

What challenges do young Cambodian artists face?

One of the biggest challenges is what art graduates are facing. Where they go next after finishing art school? Does the training they receive at school prepare them to be practicing artists? I think extra support beyond what is currently offered at art schools and university is needed. This includes general education, art history, critical thinking and learning, and discussion and feedback. Informed by previous models done by other art spaces in the past, Sa Sa Art Projects started a new Contemporary Art Class this year. Participating students discuss and learn about different aspects of art, history, philosophy and other disciplines to build critical knowledge in developing their personal, emerging practices. They also develop a new body of work for a group exhibition at the end of the programme. The result proved encouraging and we will run a second edition next year. Cambodia also needs more art spaces that work with and support art graduates.

What do artists take away from Sa Sa Art Projects?

We share and we grow together. How can we learn from each other and from artists from neighbouring countries and beyond? How can we learn not only from artists, but also from students or other groups of people? How can we find ways to work together? How can we find ways to make art that is closest to what matters for each of us? How can we best contribute and make the most of what we do as artists?

It has been reported that a Japanese company is to demolish The White Building for development. What effect would this have on the community?

It’s [The White Building] absolutely significant for Phnom Penh’s architectural and urban history. It’s also an important case study for urban and cultural planners to learn on how we can build and develop a creative community or city. Sa Sa Art Projects remains close with the White Building community in supporting creative responses on what they want. We have been collecting stories and creative projects produced by artists, students and residents about this vital community and neighbourhood, which is available online [whitebuilding.org].

What are some of Sa Sa Art’s success stories?

IPerhaps some of the visible successes are some of our former students who have started to become practicing artists. They have undertaken artist residencies in neighbouring countries, and participated in exhibitions in Cambodia and the region. It is extremely encouraging to see a new generation of artists. Another exciting aspect is how residents at the White Building so far have enriched our understanding of art, what it can be, and who can make and participate. People are very generous and ready to share their personal and communal spaces, such as shop fronts, coffee shops, the street and rooftop, to turn into art events in the neighbourhood.

What role does art play in society?

Art can do so many things. Art cannot change society. But art can change the way we think about, see and do things. I believe this ultimate can make change.

When did you first discover your passion for the arts?

I first worked in the development sector. Then I became part of Stiev Selpak and involved in Sa Sa Art Projects. I found my work in development was lacking something, and it wasn’t fulfilling for me. After one workshop at Sa Sa Art Projects, the students said that they wanted to study more, and I thought that was development right there. It gave me new feeling and fulfillment that I didn’t have before. So then I became invested in art and went to study Art History in the US. The White Building presented such a unique and special platform to engage in art while building a community so it fitted.