September 24, 2009

Sopheap Pich, Sculptor...

See a multimedia version of this story at this link.

“Global Hybrid” group exhibition, Meta House,
July 2 to August 2, 2009, Phnom Penh.

“WRITHS” by Sopheap Pich
Rattan and wire, 2009, 110 cm x 145 cm x 130 cm

Based in Phnom Penh, Sopheap Pich is a Cambodian artist. He was born in Battambang in 1971 and has emigrated to Amherst, Massachussets, USA in 1984, with his parents and his three brothers. During his College years, Sopheap eventually traveled, studied and lived in Miami, Chicago, France and Boston where he received his Masters of Arts.
In 2002, Sopheap Pich decided to come back living in Cambodia. In Phnom Penh he has settled a space for work, found his voice (abandoning painting for sculpture) and his material, rattan and bamboo, which he uses to create his sculptures, some of them referring to the body and our organs, and the feelings and emotions that our mind and spirit experience through them.

One of the most prominent artists in Cambodia today, Pich now receives international interest. His work is currently represented by H Gallery in Bangkok, 10 Chancery Lane Gallery in Hong Kong and Tyler Rollins Fine Art in New York City. Important past shows include “The Best of Discovery” and “The Ke Center for the Contemporary Art”, both in Shanghai, or a participation at the Fukuoka Triennale in Japan. In November, Pich will open "The Pulse Within", a solo show in New York. In December he will be part of the Asia Pacific Triennale in Queensland, Australia. Few Cambodian artists have yet been that prolific and successful to that international level. Still, Sopheap Pich recognizes that this is something he couldn’t have achieved if he had not secured great working relationships with the two assistants working with him in his studio...Sopheap Pich's work is online at

Toma (above left and below), 31, Sopheap’s assistant. They have worked together since 2004.

September 13, 2009

Deported... Returned...

In the 1980s, the American government has welcomed some 145 000 Cambodians, most of them from the different refugees camps of the Thai border. For some of the children of these Cambodian refugees, America has sometimes played unwanted tricks, taking advantage some twenty years later of their lacking the American citizenship: in March 2002, the United States signed a deportation agreement with Cambodia.
Since then deportation back to Cambodia has become the fate of more than 200 Cambodian Americans (212 to this day) who had encountered the American justice system. Many of the deported are people who left Cambodia as babies or young children or who were born in the Thai refugee camps, having never touched Cambodian soil in their entire lives. They’re from California, Massachussets, Minnesota, Texas, Florida and other places in the US where Cambodians have gathered. And they will never be allowed to go back to America, even for a short family visit!
Unlike the integration of others Asian nationalities, the integration of Cambodians to the American life has not always been easy. Many surveys in the last decade show that Cambodians usually have some of the worst rates in terms of poverty living, access to American citizenship, access to college studies, use of the English language…
The reality for many returnees was simple, especially for those living on the West Coast (California, Oregon and Washington State): handled badly by Black or Hispanic gangs, their response has been to regroup and create their own gangs to protect themselves, their family, eventually their community… Tiny Little Rascals, Cold Blooded Cambodians, Bishop Street Blood are a few of these gangs, evidences that the integration model in the United States – at least for the Cambodians – has not been totally successful.
Among the returnees are probably harden criminals, yet many people have been, still are, and will unfortunately be deported for minor crimes, even after they often have repaid their debts to society and rebuilt their life, with a steady job, family and children. Among the deported are also individuals who need psychological or personal help to deal with difficult circumstances, help that they have never received. These individual considerations make no difference to the ICE, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Service of the United States, for which any crime or offence, minor as it may be (for example: shoplifting, street drinking, etc), is considered an “aggravated felony” from the moment it is committed by a non-citizen. These offences, committed up to 20 years ago in some cases, bring with them the possibility of deportation. Good-bye America! Hello Cambodia!
Returnees often arrive without resources, as money is frequently stolen from them by the immigration authorities during their arrival at Pochentong Airport. Returnees also usually arrive without knowledge of Cambodian culture, habits and social rules. At the Returnee Integration Support Center (RISC), a diminishing staff is doing the best it can to provide a place for these Returnees. Funding was available early on, but after USAID withdrew support for the project, staff at RISC has diminished to just a few people to help the Returnees with housing, health, education and most of all finding a job.
If a some returnees have succeeded getting good jobs correctly paid (from a Cambodian point of view…), sometimes even creating their own organization and receiving fame international fame and attention (such as KK and “Tiny Toons), most returnees don’t have the chance to be in a great positive mood. Some face real physical or health concerns, sometimes crippled by malnutrition or drug abuse. Some face psychological issues or depression, some end up in the streets, weak, vulnerable and often the victim of violent crime.
On July 4th some returnees from the Phnom Penh area (some now live in the countryside, making their life as farmers) gathered at RISC in Phnom Penh Bœung Tompun neighborhood, to celebrate the 7th year’s reunification of Cambodian American returnees. Barbecue, sodas, hamburgers were at the menu. Some returnees came with their girlfriend or spouse, and kids, some time to share the latest info, get some news from friends, spend an afternoon in a friendly environment… A gathering to try to warm the heart of some guys who face a big challenge in their life, in a country – Cambodia - that is not well known to provide immediate safety nets for those in need…

September 12, 2009

Boomer, a returnee rapping destiny

See a multimedia version of this story at this link.

Boomer is 27 years old. He was born in a refugee camp on the Thai border and arrived in the United States when he was just a baby. He has lived in Stockton, California. In 2003, after a couple of years spent in a Californian jail, he got deported back to Cambodia, in the “6th group” of returnees. Boomer is one of the 212 returnees who have already been deported back to a native country that they barely know – if not at all – when they arrive on the Cambodian soil. After his arrival, Boomer quickly realized that he couldn’t give up hope and looked forward to reconstruct a new life in Phnom Penh. Though it’s not easy at all, Boomer – in comparison with other returnees - hasn’t done too bad, even if he admits still struggling to make ends meet, support his family and the project that he has started.
Boomer has created his own organization, “A+ Entertainment”, certainly inspired by the success of KK and his organization “Tiny Toons”. Boomer is an artistic producer, mixer and DJ, but most of all he is an educator and role model for the young boys he brings off the streets of Phnom Penh, where he gives them a chance or at least a ticket to the growing rap-hip-hop-DJ club scene in Cambodia.
The “Khmer Tassou”, four boys who dream of being under the television spotlights, working under the mentoring and tutoring of Boomer, an older brother or a dad they may not have at home.

In the studio, the “Khmer Tassou” are working on their texts. The four boys don’t cheat under Boomer’s instructions; they think and write conscientiously with Boomer behind them.

Poeun Sophon Pheap, 16, alias “DJ Shadow”, another singer at working in Boomer’s studio.