Collective Hopes to Inspire Appreciation of Graphic Design

When 12 young graphic designers decided to team up for a recent exhibition, it was less about their art and more about introducing locals to the concept of design.

The M’lo collective, whose name is Khmer slang for “dozen,” staged the exhibit “Nothing New Under the Sun” from March 28 to 31 at the Institute of Foreign Languages in Phnom Penh.

A visitor peruses the M'lo collective's exhibition at the Institute for Foreign Languages in Phnom Penh last month. (M'lo collective)
A visitor peruses the M’lo collective’s exhibition at the Institute for Foreign Languages in Phnom Penh last month. (M’lo collective)

“Our team made this exhibition happen because most people in Cambodia still don’t know much about graphic design,” An Bunngoun, 24, said in an interview earlier this week.

“We try to explain to people what we do,” said Meng Sim Hour, 23, adding that some Cambodians mistake graphic design with interior design or architecture.

The designers all graduated from Limkokwing University in Phnom Penh last year and most are now working freelance in advertising, marketing, layout and photography.

Chhan Bunhann, 28, said the community of local graphic designers in Phnom Penh was a small one, given the few universities that teach it. And professional graphic design is seen as the purview of foreigners, not Cambodians, Mr. Sim Hour added.

“Mostly, when we go to job interviews, the opportunity, they give to the foreigners,” Mr. Sim Hour said.

And while there is growing appreciation for art in the city, Mr. Bunhann said many Cambodians do not have an appreciation for graphic design, citing his experience at previous exhibits around town.

“We found mostly it’s foreigners, tourists, and they already understand what is graphic design, what is art. And we noticed that not many local people go to see it,” he said.

“When they don’t understand, they say it’s boring,” he added. “So when we explain [it to] them, they say, ‘ah that’s very interesting.’”

The M’lo collective’s exhibit consisted of a light-and-sculpture installation and individual members’ works, drawing about 400 students over the four days it was on display.

“We found a lot of students were interested about the show, and we feel satisfied,” Mr. Bunhann said. “At least we can explain to some students, even if not all students in the school.”

The collection of works reflected the diversity of the 12 designers.

“Everyone got inspired by different things,” Mr. Sim Hour said.

“I’m more into Khmer art,” he said. “I started using patterns on the clothes, I’m using lotus flowers, mixing with modernism…to make it more simple.”

“For me, I like clean and retro,” said Mr. Bunngoun, adding that the exhibit took more than a year to plan.

“You know, teamwork,” Mr. Bunhann said. “We fight a lot because everyone’s got different ideas,” he added, laughing.

But the designers hoped their show inspired others to give graphic design a chance.

“This is the beginning,” Mr. Bunhann said.

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