Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Exhibition tells story of those who return



Exhibition tells story of those who return

A photo of Sophy, who moved to Massachusetts as a child and is now an actor in Cambodia. ‘I walk into a room here or in America and they automatically assume I’m from somewhere else,’ he told van Kemenade. Photo supplied
A photo of Sophy, who moved to Massachusetts as a child and is now an actor in Cambodia. ‘I walk into a room here or in America and they automatically assume I’m from somewhere else,’ he told Erik van Kemenade. Photo supplied

Exhibition tells story of those who return

Family history and identity lie at the heart of a new exhibition opening tonight by Erik van Kemenade, an exploration of the homecoming of second generation Cambodians whose parents fled the Khmer Rouge.

Those Who Came Back is an intimate look in the lives of 25 Cambodians who have returned to the country after spending most of their life abroad, most in Western countries. The photos are taken in each person’s favourite place in Cambodia, and are accompanied by short interviews about their lives.

“Along the way, I got struck by the variety of stories and how the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge uniquely unfolded for second generation children,” says van Kemenade. In particular, he points out the story of Sophy.

Born in Cambodia near the end of the Khmer Rouge, Sophy moved to Massachusetts in the United States at the age of 5.

“[Sophy] describes [how] Khmer people started drinking, dealing with their trauma, and having issues with it, although it didn’t happen with his family,” says van Kemenade.

“As a kid he said that while America was big, [his world] was so small, because he would never leave. [He] was basically working all the time to save money. I find this interesting, because in those circumstances, they don’t have much choices.”

He describes three paths open to Cambodians: college, the Army, or getting sucked into criminal activity.

As much as the project is the story of returning Cambodians, it is also personal. Van Kemenade himself is half-Khmer, and his mother also left Cambodia on the eve of the Khmer Rouge takeover, finding her way to Vietnam, and then later to the Netherlands, where she met his father.

“In every story I recognised bits and pieces that I can relate to from my own background,” he says. “I realised the interviews served as some sort of mirror of my own identity.”

He talks about straddling two cultures while growing up, never really understanding why his Cambodian mother was so different from his Dutch father, or other Dutch parents. It was only by coming back to Cambodia, and seeing his mother’s home country through his own eyes, that their relationship grew closer.

This idea of retracing roots and finding Cambodian identity runs through the exhibition. As Poramy, a Khmer-Australian lawyer, says: there is a “generational gap but also a cultural gap”.

“I think it’s important for our generation to know the history and origins of our parents in order to know ourselves,” says van Kemenade. “In that sense, if this exhibition helps other people with a full or half-Khmer background to make that easier, I achieved more than I could have wished for.”

Those Who Came Back opens at Meta House tonight at 6pm, and will be shown from December 7-15.

MOST VIEWED

  • Construction begins on $1.5B Kampot seaport

    The International Multi-Purpose Logistics and Port Centre, principally invested by Kampot Logistics and Port Co Ltd and projected to cost $1.5 billion, has officially broken ground in Bokor town, Kampot province. The multi-purpose logistics and port centre, located in Prek Tnaot commune, will be built on

  • Cambodia eyes key role in electronics, auto hubs in SEA

    Two roadmaps, part of the LDC’s economic diversification plan, were designed to see it through its migration process, but experts say the journey might be arduous, particularly in the presence of two established hubs in the region By 2028, Cambodia hopes to have exited the

  • Hun Neng, lawmaker and PM’s brother, passes away aged 72

    Hun Neng, chairman of the 4th Commission of the National Assembly, has passed away from heart disease at the age of 72 on the afternoon of May 5, according to the Ministry of Information. Hun Neng is the older brother of Prime Minister Hun Sen, and was

  • CCC team off on US business trip

    The Kingdom’s leading economists and private sector representatives have called on the US to renew its tax preferential status for Cambodian exports, as a Cambodia Chamber of Commerce (CCC) delegation departed for a weeklong business visit to the US, where they will meet with

  • PM meets with US business giants

    Prime Minister Hun Sen has met with a number of major US companies who have expressed interest in investing in Cambodia, in a meeting convened by the US-ASEAN Business Council (US-ABC). A delegation of companies – including Amazon, Meta, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, Ford, Visa and Pernod

  • Massive stingrays may live in Mekong’s deep pools

    US scientists have suggested that unexplored deep pools in the Mekong River in an area of Stung Treng could potentially be home to significant populations of giant freshwater stingrays, one of the world’s largest freshwater fish species. This comes as a fisherman hooked a 180