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“When you are not visible, it’s like you don’t exist”—Queer Representation Through Art in Cambodia (An Interview)




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. 


Read more about Vuth Lyno’s oth­er projects on https://vuthlyno.art/artworks.