CAMBODIA THESE DAYS
Rodney Dickson
 
S21 Prison
Americans are aware of what happened in Vietnam 30 years ago, but not so many know as much about what happened in Cambodia as a result of that war.

Cambodia is a small country sharing a border with Vietnam. During the American war with Vietnam, the North Vietnamese based some of its’ troops just across the border in Cambodia to escape American harassment. Nixon decided to start a secret bombing campaign in Cambodia to attempt to oust the NVA from their sanctuaries. The strength of the communists was mostly unaffected by this bombing campaign, but it did begin to destabilize Cambodia and set off a chain of events that would lead to that countries destruction at the hands of the Khmer Rouge from 1975-78.

In December of 2004 I made my first trip to Cambodia in search of artists for a Cambodian contemporary art show in New York instigated by Susan Hammond from the Fund for Reconciliation and Development. I was hosted by Bruce Blowitz, an American art collector who has made Phnom Penh his home. Bruce has a very interesting collection of Vietnamese master paintings, Vietnamese war propaganda paintings, and the work of Svay Ken–a Cambodian master living nearby. Bruce took me around and together we searched for artists to include in the New York show. My first reaction was that of shock. Although I had experienced life in developing or "third-world" countries such as Vietnam, this was not comparable to Cambodia. The after-effects of war and genocide have almost destroyed the fabric of Cambodian society.

Today it is struggling to rebuild a functioning social structure, but still it is pretty lawless, a center for prostitution, pedophilia and other nefarious dealings. The ex-pat community is largely a fascinating, but motley crew. Most are there for a reason, sometimes good, sometimes bad and ugly.

Is it totally unrealistic to hope to find a contemporary art scene in this "fucked up" place? The following section tells the story of what there is and what there is not in this desperate place. CHANGES, an exhibition of Contemporary Art from Cambodia will be presented in Tenri Gallery, New York, later in 2006. For further information contact Susan Hammond shammond@ffrd.org Special thanks to Bruce Blowitz and Linda Saphan.

For further information on Cambodia, the Vietnam War and the Khmer Rouge, watch the movie The Killing Fields.
For further information on the Fund for Reconciliation and Development visit www.ffrd.org
For further information on the collection of Bruce Blowitz and the work of Svay Ken, visit www.southeastasianpictures.com