The Cambodia Daily, by Fergal Quinn
 
In Thai artist Songchai Buacham's work, Southeast Asia's eternal features mix with today's life as he lives it. Books intertwine with trees, libraries house orchards, and ghosts of elephants troop forth from between pages across wooden desks. Images get repeated within an artwork in crayon, watercolor, pastel and beautifully intricate, spindly little sketches, often with only slight changes in perspective. "History is important, but it's not my focus," said the 34-year-old university lecturer. "I look to the future and how we can build and improve our cultures."

"While an artist must learn about and know the past, he is free from it. This is important for the future of our countries and our relations," he said. Songchai Buacham is a painting instructor at Silpakorn University in Bangkok. He is in Phnom Penh as part of the Mekong Art and Culture Project, an initiative spearheaded by his university to encourage exchanges between art traditions in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. "My life is one of learning, so it was natural and comfortable for me to come to Phnom Penh," Songchai Buacham said. "The mind must always be open to new art."

One of Songchai Buacham's goals during his visit, he said, is to bring the neighboring cultures together through art and thought rather than politics. "Thailand perhaps has a more literary tradition while the Cambodian one is more oral - I think we can learn from each other." In addition to meeting with Cambodian artists, he is conducting workshops for Cambodian students from the Royal University for Fine Arts at Metahouse, the gallery where his work is on view. "Their level technically is very good," he said of the students. "They have been very open to new styles, thinking and ideas."...