PRIDE, DIGITAL EXHIBITION
“When you are not visible, it’s like you don’t exist”—Queer Representation Through Art in Cambodia (An Interview)
bY LARA SHAKER
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Vuth Lyno
8 photographic diptychs
Photo Book, Photography
180 x 60 cm
Pioneering queer representation through photography and multimedia art, Vuth Lyno is one of Cambodia’s contemporary voices speaking on LGBTQI+ rights. An interview about what it means to create art, social change and the struggle of visibility.
Phnom Penh based artist Vuth Lyno debuted with Thoamada (I), a photo series capturing gay and bisexual men in contemporary Cambodian society. After Thoamada (II), a photographic take on queer lives in rural communities, many such projects followed, establishing him further in the art scene. Today, Lyno’s works are exhibited in different parts of the world, from the Biennale of Sydney, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Taipei to the Art Gallery of New South Wales. He uses his art as a means to explore diversity, to represent different perspectives and to inspire social change. His artworks often combine different media, such as photo- and videography, sculptures and light, and invite the public to interact with them. Lyno also works as a curator and educator at the Sa Sa Art Projects studio in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.
Ferrars and Fields talked to Lyno about representing LGBTQ+ lives and the importance of visibility.
FF: In Thoamada (I) you investigate queer lives in your home country Cambodia. Through nine photographs of gay and bisexual men, the viewer is confronted with queer, Cambodian individuals. How did this project come about and do you think it’s still as relevant in 2023?
Lyno: Thoamada was my first significant art project I created. It’s, in a way, a very personal project because I created this project around just before I came out as a gay man. While the intention of the project was to engage and challenge public understanding of Cambodian LGBT+, in this case gay and bisexual men, through portraits and storytelling, the project inspired me to come out and to make a decision to live the life I want to. I guess it has a particular value at that time [a.n.: around 2011] when the public understanding and conversation of LGBT+ was only starting in Cambodia. Through the stories and photographs of 9 queer men, I hoped the project could somehow contribute to positive and nuanced understanding of Cambodian LGBT+. The project focused on individual perspectives of queer men. Since then the public understanding and conversation on gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender people have changed a lot, thanks to many initiatives. Building on this project, I later did [Thoamada] II in 2013 through which I worked with diverse LGBTs people including lesbians, transwomen, transmen and their families.
FF: That’s right, only two years later you expanded your research and talked to families in rural communities with queer family members. How did the parents/relatives interviewed for Thoamada (II) react to your project idea?
Lyno: Many families were so eager to share their stories. I found that some members heard stories of their queer parents/grandparents or relatives for the first time at the conversation. I remember there were quite interesting responses/expressions on people’s faces. I’m glad that without intention, they didn’t only share with me, but with their family members as everyone was sitting around together. The project in a small way facilitated a cross-generation story sharing.
FF: It has for sure started a lot of hard conversations between these family members. One could say: A small revolution even! Do you consider yourself an activist of some sort? And why did you choose the medium of art for social change?
Lyno: I’m interested in social transformation. I’m also interested in story telling, social relations, and notions of community. So it just happens naturally that when I make art, it touches on matters I’m interested in in one way or another. I hope to make art that matters, art that is doing something, art that affects our society and moves our society forward. I wouldn’t be comfortable to consider myself as an LGBT activist, because there are so many people that I admire who are at the forefront doing this work and struggling every day. I consider myself as an interdisciplinary artist who engages with my communities and my society.
FF: Interesting take. What do you think is the importance of visibility and representation of queer individuals in society?
Lyno: When you are not visible, it’s like you don’t exist. When you don’t exist, you don’t matter. This is significantly important especially for the marginalised communities such as LGBT+, immigrants, etc. Being visible is to exist and to matter. Matter to themselves, their families, communities and society. Representation is another important aspect. Who represents who? In what way? Do we represent ourselves or are we represented by others? Whose voices? Our direct voices, or interpreted by others? There could be very good stories that are badly represented.
FF: I can see the intersectional approach in your work. In 2021, you launched Indadhanu, an art installation for the “I accept” campaign by gay activist group RoCK. Do you think your art is political?
Lyno: For me, Indadhanu, is a project that grounds on natural phenomena, its beauty and harmony. Nature is our teacher. How can we learn from nature and aspire to its beauty in diversity and harmony? Can we take this lesson from nature and consider our society that is colorful, inclusive of sexual orientation and gender [expression] and identity? It is up to the audience to think whether this art project is political or not.
FF: Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
EDITED BY LARA HELENA.
Read more about Vuth Lyno’s other projects on https://vuthlyno.art/artworks.