Between 1975-1979, 1.7 million Cambodians—a third of the country’s population— perished during the Killing Fields, one of the most horrific state-sponsored genocides of the twentieth century. In the years since, over 150,000 Cambodians displaced in refugee camps along the Thai-Cambodian border resettled in the United States.
My immediate family is among the survivors.
In the fall of 2010, I set up a makeshift portrait studio in my grandmother's garage in Stockton, California. Right before I took her photo, she recounted to me the heartbreaking details of my family's experience during Cambodia’s Killing Fields for the first time in her life. As she spoke, I was overcome with a sense of history and a connection to a past that had for so long been withheld from me.
The encounter sprung a need to learn more. I began talking with Cambodian-Americans across the country in an attempt to piece together our collective story - of trauma, displacement, and resilience - and to understand how this has affected the lives of Cambodian-Americans across generations. I discovered that the generational divide I experienced in my family was common amongst survivors and their children. In photographing these communities, I recognized the power such images have in generating discussion about this shared, yet often unvoiced legacy.
Last year, with support from the Magnum Foundation, I spent five months photographing in the Bronx, New York. The experience was personally transformative and strengthened my desire to continue documenting in Cambodian communities across the country.
With your support, I will build on the process I began years ago. I will first photograph in Philadelphia, where I spent considerable time as an organizer for a grassroots Cambodian American organization, the One Love Movement, founded and led by young Cambodian Americans like myself. From Philadelphia, I will travel to Lowell, Massachusetts, one of the largest Cambodian communities outside of Cambodia itself. I will photograph community members and create informal exhibitions to generate inter-generational discussion among community members. Your support will enable me to work on this project for nearly four months uninterrupted, covering my living, travel, and equipment expenses.
The time to act is now. As survivors gradually pass away, their children—many of whom, like myself, were born in refugee camps and raised in the US—harbor questions about their identity and family history. There is a need to make these untold stories heard. Like the generation after the Holocaust, Cambodians of my generation are uniquely capable of writing this narrative. It is this story that I seek to honor, preserve, and share with the world.
Thank you for your support.
TAX DEDUCTIBLE DONATION: If you would like to make a tax deductible contribution to this project, please select "No Reward" when you back this project for pledges of $50 or more. The Magnum Foundation will send you a formal thank you letter that will serve as a receipt for your donation. Contributions in support of this project are payable to the Magnum Foundation, a 501(c)(3) public charity, and, to the extent permitted by law, are tax deductible for U.S. taxpayers less the value of any goods or services received.
Rewards for this campaign include art and music from fellow Cambodian Americans grappling with the Cambodian American experience. Each of these artists use their own forms of expression to tell their stories and explore their identities. Together, these works of art offer insight into the Cambodian American experience.
ABOUT CONTRIBUTING ARTISTS
Khemarak Tor is a Cambodian-American visual artist currently residing in Anaheim, California. He was born in Khao-I-Dang refugee camp along the border of Cambodia and Thailand in 1980 and immigrated with the surviving members of his family to the US in 1982, resettling in Santa Ana, California. Employing both traditional and digital media, his work is inspired by his personal history as a Cambodian-American refugee.
Prumsodun Ok is an artist, teacher, storyteller, and idea generator based in Long Beach, CA. His interdisciplinary performances contemplate Rene Daumal's expression of "the avant-garde in antiquity," mining the tradition of Cambodian classical dance to explore the intersection of contemporary social issues with new possibilities for performance. Currently, he is Associate Artistic Director of Khmer Arts and serves on the Board of the Alliance for California Traditional Arts. His forthcoming book, Ream Eyso and Moni Mekhala, features a retelling of the traditional tale by the same name—and weaves interviews, essays, and illustrations by award-winning choreographer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, dance scholar Toni Shapiro-Phim, and visual artist Brian Mendez.
The Azi Fellas are a Cambodian-American hip-hop band from Philadelphia, PA. With a unique sound featuring a live band, DJ and rappers with musical influences ranging from classic Cambodian rock and roll to American hip-hop, their music explores themes of cultural identity, struggles in the inner city, and the refugee experience. In addition to producing music, the band seeks to raise awareness on the issue of deportations of Cambodian refugees through community organizing and political activism.
Prach Ly, Cambodia’s first hip hop star, was born in the Killing Fields of Cambodia and raised in Long Beach, CA. His debut album, "DALAMA..The End'n is Just the Beginnin," became a sensation in Cambodia, becoming the first #1 rap/hip-hop album in the country. His music explores the legacy of genocide and the struggles of the Cambodian American community.
Born in Cambodia and raised in South Jersey/Philly, Jeff “JL Jupiter” Lek is a hip-hop and R&B artist based in Camden/Philadelphia. His much anticipated debut solo album, Resident Alien, which touches on themes related to his personal history as a Cambodian American refugee raised in the inner city, was released in November, 2011.
- (30 days)