Quiet when you first meet her, Lim Sreyleang has a determination and creative energy that quickly become evident when she speaks. She was part of the first class to graduate from Phare Ponleu Selpak’s 3-year professional program in the Visual and Applied Arts School. Now, 23 year old Sreyleang, or Leang, is teaching at the school and working as a designer for the boutique on campus.
The Visual and Applied Arts School, or VAAS for short, began its ambitious professional program in late 2013, and Leang was one of the first students to sign up. In July 2016, Leang received a diploma from VAAS and began her professional career. But getting to that point was not so easy.
The Challenges of Being an Artist in Cambodia
Leang started studying at Phare after she graduated from high school in 2012. She came to learn simple skills like drawing faces or figures. It was through these drawing classes that Leang first discovered Graphic Design and Animation. She had never heard of these disciplines before and was eager to study.
However, Leang had a problem. She wanted to study art, but her father did not agree.
Art is not a normal career choice in Cambodia, especially for young women. Her father vehemently opposed the idea of Leang studying art, on the grounds that it wouldn’t lead to a good job. Heeding her father’s wishes, Leang stopped taking classes at Phare.
But then, Phare announced its new professional program in 2013 and Leang knew she had to sign up. But in order to complete her studies, she had to defy her father. How did make the tough decision to go against her parent? In her own words:
“People think studying to be a doctor is good, and that drawing is not a good job. But I want to say that it is not like that. When you study to be a doctor, you might just follow your family, but for me, to study graphic design I followed my heart, and I am happy.”
Even after Leang had begun studying design at PPSA, her father was opposed. He told her to study something sensible, and insisted that she get a degree in accounting.
And so she did. During the day, Leang attended accounting classes at university. But in the evenings she followed her heart and studied at Phare Ponleu Selpak. During the three years that Leang studied both Graphic Design and Accounting, her father was against her artistic choice. He wanted his daughter to have a safe income and a good job. But Leang had to follow her heart.
For Leang, the risk paid off and in July 2016 she became one of the first students to graduate from the VAAS professional program. She immediately began working as a freelance graphic designer for clients all over Cambodia, proving to herself and to her father that a career in the arts was possible.
The next big professional moment came in October 2016. Leang was offered 2 new jobs: teaching at VAAS and designing for Phare Ponleu Selpak’s new boutique.
This Is What Success Looks Like
Today, Leang teaches Product Design at VAAS school to the younger students following in her footsteps. She enjoys teaching, not only because she gets to share her experiences, but also because, “when I teach, I also learn at the same time. Teaching forces me to improve myself.”
At the boutique, Leang gets to apply her Product Design lessons to real life, creating the branding, packaging, and design of new products for the boutique.
And remember Leang’s father? The one who was so opposed to her studying art? Well, now that leang has found a fulfilling career through design, he has completed changed his tune.
“Now, my younger sister, she is studying at Phare. And my dad is really encouraging her to study graphic design and get a good job as a designer. I’m proud that I was able to change his mind.”
Art and Design in Modern Cambodia
For students in Battambang and around Cambodia, access to the arts is limited. Many students with innate artistic talent may never discover their passion. Phare Ponleu Selpak gives students a chance to explore their artistic side, and the opportunity to gain the skills they need for careers in the arts.
And Leang, how much has PPSA and the arts impacted her life? As a young student who has grown into a professional teacher and designer, Leang has a message for all the young Cambodians who feel uncertain about their future:
“If you have something you want to do, fight for it, don’t listen to the people who tell you no. Follow your heart and you will be a success.”
Want to support future artists like Sreyleang to reach their dreams? Donate to Phare Ponleu Selpak and contribute to the education of the next generation of Cambodian artists.