Cambodia’s long, chequered history spans the vibrant, ancient Khmer culture to the country’s hopeful, modern aspect, but is overshadowed by the devastation of the Pol Pot regime. More than 1.7 million people perished through starvation, disease, overwork and execution, including most of the country’s artists and intellectuals. Now a widespread effort has been made to preserve the country’s 1,000-year-old arts, which were on the brink of extinction.
Cambodia’s tragic recent history provides the inspiration for O Cambodia.
There is a Cambodian proverb – “the rowing boat passes, the river bank remains” – which to me suggests that isolated events in history, or in a person’s life, eventually pass, while history, or life itself, flows on. Within the O CAMBODIA project, I wanted to present a narrative which moves on from the Khmer Rouge times into the future, moving from the hard times that affected every Cambodian who is now over 35, into a profoundly altered world.
The first section of the river flows on… is Prophecy, which presents an ancient saying whose source is not remembered today. The second section, Sokha’s Story, tells the story of Sokha Mey, who currently lives and works in Wellington. She was a young girl living with her family in a small village near Siem Reap when Lon Nol’s forces were defeated and the Khmer Rogue came to power. The final section, “the river flows on…” places Sokha’s story into the future, where she was able to make a new life for herself in New Zealand.
I would like to thank Niborom Young, Sokun Chiv and particularly Sokha Mey for their invaluable help.
- CD notes from Atoll CD “O CAMBODIA” (see under ‘Availability’)