Working aside Loven Ramos has shown me what it means to be an adaptable, creative mind in the working world, conscious of integrating the many different cultural identities that he faces as an immigrant to Cambodia, working in a newly emerging artistic culture in Cambodia. Loven is an artist at heart and a person that needs variety in his career. Loven works in many facets and his job changes throughout the year. My six-week internship fell during the low season, which meant he was working less on his tourist responsibilities — guiding photography tours, working as the general manager at Riversoul hotel, and running the 1961 artspace— and taking a sabbatical to work on different passion projects.
While I was there, I assisted Loven on two projects. He worked on renovating and designing Bloom Cafe, a bakery focused on helping train women in domestic violence situations and giving them a stable job and income. One of the aspects of my internship was checking in with commissioned craftsman. Loven conceptualizes most of the design and if he can’t make his vision himself, there are craftsman all around Cambodia that can provide the labor. Their skills are incredible; their products are masterful.
Two craftsman visits struck me the most: the first, a woodcarver on the outskirts of Siem Reap, a few minutes drive outside of Angkor Wat. His shop was set along the side of the road, with massive slabs of wood under the roof. The owner was out during that time, but his assistant was familiar with Loven and we discussed the cake stands that were being commissioned for Bloom. We checked over the stands and Loven directed his corrections for the vision. Communication was so key to the success of the commission, but what I loved most was how both the designer and the craftsman made his own creativity realized through this. There were a few alterations Loven had not commissioned. They were slight imperfections to the design that the craftsman had added. The people at Bloom loved them because they gave the truly homemade feel that they had wanted for the overall design. It was a privilege to be privy to the discussions and see how Loven’s vision came to life through the woodcarver’s skills.
The second craftsman visit that struck me was at Lo-YuYu, a forty minute drive outside the city. It is an artisan ceramics shop that was started by a Japanese professor. She had been conducting research in the area on Angkorian pottery. Near Lo-YuYu was the site of ancient kilns in that area, and locals used to find incredibly valuable pieces of pottery and sell them for low prices to tourists. The government has since put protective laws on selling and transporting the pottery, but it was incredible to hear about the history of how the ceramics revivalist movement begun. The professor then began to learn and teach the art of ceramics to locals. She worked for years learning how to work best with the types of clay available in Cambodia and studied methods common in the 7th century. Lo-YuYu now supplies handmade commissioned ceramics internationally, from five-star hotels to Michelin restaurants. The pottery has come to be more highly valued as pieces of Cambodia’s history.
One of the things that struck me most about the internship was the conversations we had after work, often over tea. We often discussed how to keep passion and motivation in the workplace. For Loven, the history of Cambodia fueled the vision overall. Cambodia is a place that suffered artistic persecution during the Khmer Rouge in the 1970’s. Over the past decade, there have been great measures taken to help revive different arts and culture that is specifically Cambodia. Near Lo-YuYu, there is a museum set up there that is run solely by local people, and free to any Khmer. In fact, the education of Khmer culture is highly prioritized by the government. Every national park and historical site — including every single temple — is free to any Khmer person. Using different Cambodian craftsman as integral parts to revive their own culture and help regain some of the artistic identity that was lost during the Khmer Rouge. For me, it was a privilege to study how foreign partners can come in but uplift and prioritize the culture and the needs of the people who live there.