Art in Cambodia

Prior to graduation, Erin Gleeson '01, a double major in art and art history imagined she would one day be an artist while simultaneously teaching the very subjects that she studied at the College of Saint Benedict. Little did she know, her path would bring her to do so much more.

In 2001, Erin was awarded the Humphrey Fulbright Fellowship from the University of Minnesota Law School after she had applied to research creative methodologies in human rights education in Cambodia. This fellowship allowed her to work in Cambodia for five months pursuing her planned research while also picking up research on her BA art history thesis and heading a new Art History elective at the largest liberal arts university in Phnom Penh, Pannassastra.

When she returned to Minneapolis, Erin received another grant being recognized as an artist who would facilitate an intergenerational photography project through the United Cambodian Associate of Minnesota (UCAM). While working on this project, she took a job as a barista at a café and longed to be back in Cambodia pursuing the work that she had set out to do.

"One morning at the café, I was serving a regular customer his regular order when he asked me where I would like to be," says Erin. "I quickly answered ‘Cambodia' and explained how I wanted more time to research the ideas in my thesis. The next day my ‘tip' from him was a round trip first class ticket to Cambodia! I later learned he was a lawyer for Northwest airlines. It was that few-week research trip that gave me time to connect to people who became central in my decision to move to Cambodia."

After the move, Erin took a two-year contract with Pannassastra teaching Art History and is currently completing her MA in Theory and History of Contemporary Art as an Alphawood Scholar.

In addition to her studies, Erin co-founded and now works as the Artist Director of SA SA BASSAC, Cambodia's first and only gallery and reading room that works with contemporary art exhibits, projects and art education.
Erin had not always planned on working as a curator, but even in her time at Saint Ben's she was exposed to the life of the gallery that later influenced her decision to try it.

"Former CSB/SJU Gallery Director Lisa Cotton, who through giving me so much responsibility in the four galleries for nearly four years, ultimately led to my belief, and perhaps even dependence, on the exhibition space and form as part of my thinking and work," says Erin.

Throughout her career, Erin has accomplished so much, but what she really takes pride in is her everyday experiences with her co-founded gallery.

"It is perhaps something more rooted in the everyday that is the achievement, and for the past five years this has been related to co-founding and directing SA SA BASSAC...there are so many moving parts and spheres of resonance and engagement locally, regionally, internationally for artists and audiences - this continues to inspire me," says Erin.