The Gong is now a reality in Cambodia

The Pol Pot regime did a thorough job during its reign of terror in Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge fought against intelligence and education and destroyed artistic and cultural traditions to such an extent that the Southeast Asian country has still not fully recovered.

But how can a country without culture find its identity? This question was also asked by the renowned photographer and artist Hannes Schmid, whose NGO Smiling Gecko runs the Smiling Gecko Educational Campus around an hour north of Phnom Penh, which provides young Cambodians with an education in line with international standards.

The answer he came up with is as obvious as it is bold: we are building our own cultural centre on the campus’s 150-hectare site, which will give Cambodia the opportunity to experience the stimuli of the Khmer culture.

After around three years of planning and construction, the cultural centre called “The Gong” is now a reality. The architecture comes from the famous Swiss design and architecture firm atelier oi and it is fair to say that it is unique and fully lives up to Hannes Schmid’s high standards.

Created in a material-conscious manner, it is intended to convey the cultural connection of the gong as a musical instrument to an enormous sound space with future potential.

Like sound waves, music, theatre, painting and all other forms of art are carried from here into the country and it can be assumed that they will also return as inspiration.

The Gong was officially opened on the last weekend in June. In addition to a traditional Buddhist blessing ceremony and a no less traditional ribbon cutting, which was done by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Education, Youth and Sport Dr Hang Chuon Naron and other delegates (names at the end of this release.), the two-day opening ceremony was a colorful mixture of all kinds of performances.

In addition to classical Khmer dance and traditional music on Khmer harps, there was a solo performance by the young Dontrey interpreter Heang Chhun Heng and classical music from the Angkor Youth Orchestra. From Europe, the enchanting German pianist Luisa Imorde and the Austrian actress Isabel Karajan took to the stage.

The latter to present a multimedia spectacle on Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons”, created together with musicians from the Berlin Baroque Soloists (an ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra), in which the schoolchildren of the Smiling Gecko Project were wonderfully involved.

The same children who were also on stage in numerous singing and dancing formations. They were the real stars of the evening. And that’s a good thing. Because they are the ones who will benefit most from the Gong most. As schoolchildren, as artists and, above all, as Cambodians.

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