Abstract

The goal is two-fold: to lay an interpretative ground for writing a history of post-genocide Cambodian art, and to suggest ways in which this particular art history is symptomatic of tensions at work more generally in contemporary art and art institutions. The turn of the twenty-first century saw the coalescence of a certain art scene in Cambodia: a loose group of artists and institutions with a number of shared themes, references and outlooks formed in the encounter between different, even opposing cultural paradigms, typically experienced and described as “Eastern” and “Western.” The fact that these paradigms are to some degree constituted in the encounter (or non-encounter) itself in no way negates the apparently natural inevitability of their constitutive role in the contemporary Cambodian art world. On the one hand, much Cambodian art of the past decades has been produced in response to largely external demands that Cambodians assume responsibility for the Khmer Rouge genocide as an historico-political event with traumatic effects on societal, cultural as well as individual levels. Born in part of a perceived absence of Cambodian memory-work, these demands are made or imposed on Cambodia most directly through international initiatives for democracy and justice. The association explicitly made in these demands between a certain treatment of memory regarding the genocide and democratic political rehabilitation is firmly grounded in the experience of the Shoah in Europe and its Euro-American commemorative aftermath. On the other hand, the art has evolved in relation to the historical specifics of the genocide in Cambodia—specifics which themselves have international dimensions—and in response to domestic political and cultural demands. Most pertinent are the ways in which Theravadin Buddhist aspects of contemporary Cambodian society and its dominant cultural forms, characterized by theories and practices of subjectivity that differ significantly from those underpinning the now globalized discourses on democratization, inflect art production in this context.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6539
Print ISSN
0300-7162
Pages
pp. 82-109
Launched on MUSE
2014-02-01
Open Access
No
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