Khmer Studies Forum at Ohio University this March

Posted by: | Posted on: March 2, 2013
ANNOUNCING the 5th Annual
Khmer Studies Forum
Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University

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The 5th Annual Khmer Studies Forum (KSF) will be held at Ohio University, in Athens, Ohio, U.S.A. on Friday, March 15, Saturday, March 16, and Sunday, March 17, 2013.The 5th KSF has as its theme “identity”: e.g., What is a Khmer? Who is Khmer? How is Khmerness recognized or expressed? How has Khmerness changed over time? We anticipate presentations representing a range of disciplines and approaches.The KSF provides an opportunity to facilitate discussion on topics including but not limited to Khmer language, history, culture, economics, politics, education, and the arts. Faculty, students and community members are invited to participate. Participation in the Khmer Studies Forum is free. The KSF is hosted and organized by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Ohio University, with primary support from the Ohio Humanities Council and Arts for Ohio, with additional support from the Center for International Studies, the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism, IARTS, and the Contemporary History Institute.
Keynote Speaker
Dr. Sophal Ear, Department of National Security Affairs, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School
10 am
March 15, 2013
Baker Theatre
Dr. Sophal Ear is an Assistant Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. His research focuses on post-conflict reconstruction, stability, transition, democratization, the political economy of governance, foreign aid, development, and growth in Southeast Asia in general and Cambodia in particular. Dr. Ear serves on the Advisory Board of the Master of Development Studies Program at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, the Editorial Board of the International Public Management Journal, and the Editorial Review Board of the Journal of Southeast Asian American Education & Advancement. He has been honored as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum, and in 2011 was elected to a five-year term membership on the Council on Foreign Relations. His most recent book is The Hungry Dragon: How China’s Resource Quest is Reshaping the World (Routledge, 2013), co-authored with Sigfrido Burgos Cáceres.Dr. Ear will present a talk on Aid Dependence in Cambodia: How Foreign Assistance Undermines Democracy, a book he authored in 2012 (Columbia Unversity Press).For more information on Dr. Ear, visit

Featured Artists
Featured Artist Seoun Som

Seoun Som was born in a refugee camp in Serak Keo, Thailand and is of Cambodian decent. He grew up in Adelaide, Australia, and has spent a substantial amount of time living in the United States.

Using various mediums, Som’s work speaks to both the personal and the universal, forming metaphorical connections between his lived experiences as a Cambodian in the West and a nostalgic ancestral land that was never experienced. His photos, sculptures, and installations address the conflict inherent in being stuck between two worlds, yet also reflect the limitless possibilities inherent in hybridity.

Som received a BFA from Youngstown State University in Ohio and a MFA from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He has taught courses in both traditional and digital photography, and specialized seminars such as “The Artistic Temperament.” He is currently a program assistant with the Athens Photographic Project.

Artist’s Statement
In my work, I use personal iconography as a starting point for my work. I strip my history as well as the art materials down to crucial elements, allowing for a greater, more universal understanding of my work without losing the integrity of personal and historical reference. As a transient, I switch between cultures and identities. In a way, I am a hybrid of many cultures and identities. This hybridity is reflected in work. My work addresses the connectivity between transients and those that are acclimated to a specific cultural identity. I use the notion of connectivity to refer to the exchange of ideologies between my perspectives against that of a dominating culture.

Hip-hop musician, artist, activist, and filmmaker praCh

Rapper praCh (rhymes with “batch”) was born under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. He escaped with his family to Long Beach, California. While America held great promise, the environments in which praCh found himself in California were those of guns, gangs, and violence. He found refuge in the arts – particularly poetry and music – and combined the two into an incredible hip-hop/rap that has since catapulted him to fame. He cut his first CD, Dalama: The End’n’ Is Just the Beginnin’, in his parents’ garage. He didn’t have a mixing board––he used a karaoke machine and sampled sound bites from old Khmer Rouge propaganda speeches to create what he calls an “autobiography,” reciting stories he’d heard from his refugee family to deliver a blistering history lesson about Cambodia’s genocide. His work resonates not only with the Cambodian American community, but with Cambodians in diaspora as well as artists across the rap and hip-hop industry. The following video provides some brief insight into praCh’s fascinating life:

Featured Films
A River Changes Course
Winner of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema Documentary
Directed by Kalyanee Mam

In her feature directorial debut, Kalyanee Mam, the cinematographer for the Academy Award-winning documentary Inside Job, explores the damage rapid development has wrought in her native Cambodia on both a human and environmental level. Rural communities, used to reaping the bounty of their mountainous jungles and lush rivers, have witnessed their forests being cleared, land becoming scarce and costly, and fishing stocks rapidly depleting. No longer able to provide for their families, and often accruing massive debt as a result, many Cambodians have been forced to leave their rural lives behind to seek employment in the industrial factories of Phnom Penh.

Following her subjects for more than two years, Mam achieves a profound intimacy with them as they confront these challenges in this stunningly shot vérité portrait. Unable to pursue an education, and forced to separate from their families, they find it hard to imagine a better future when they can barely survive in the present.

A Perfect Soldier
Directed by John Severson

A Perfect Soldier is about one man’s journey from child soldier to national hero. As a young boy,Aki Ra was groomed to be an instrument of war by the Khmer Rouge regime and planted hundreds of landmines for them. We learn how these difficult experiences affected him and how he has devoted his life to changing his country’s circumstances ever since. In his adult life, Aki Ra has worked to combat the violence in which he once took part by removing what he can of the 6 million landmines that still mar Cambodia’s countryside. Starting from humble beginnings and now as an international symbol of one man’s purpose to eradicate landmines, Aki-Ra’s Cambodian Land Mine museum has changed the lives of tens of thousands of people who visit each year.

A short film by Caylee So

Immersed in a vibrant world where bets and wagers are a part of everyday living, 17 year old Paulina has found herself attracted to the game; a love understood and shared by her father, Sam, and an avid community of Cambodian gamblers. Met with strong disapproval from her sister Sopheap, Paulina remains strongly tied to the community. But soon she finds herself in the midst of her father’s war with addiction, and the realities of this world is unmasked; Paulina must inevitably choose between the world she is drawn to and the life she might someday want.

Wounds We Carry
A personal documentary by Michael Siv
A production of the Center for Asian American Media

Wounds We Carry follows a small group of Cambodian Americans as we return to observe the Khmer Rouge trials. Different paths have led us to this point. I am from a younger generation: now in my thirties, I was a child when my mother and I escaped to the U.S, leaving behind my father and brother. The elderly man in our group was being trained in the U.S. when the war broke out in 1975. His wife and two other women, short-listed by the tribunal to tell their stories at the trial, are genocide survivors. We are traveling with Dr. Leakhena Nou, a Cambodian-born woman in her early forties whose family left before the war. A professor with a doctorate in medical sociology, Leakhena is both the catalyst for our journey and the only one in our group who did not experience the atrocities firsthand.

The members of our group all seek justice but this means something different to each of us. Leakhena seems driven by her quest to find the truth and also by her notion that the healing of wounds is possible—for the survivors and for a ruptured country. She is idealistic. The three aging women survivors and the husband who got out before the war are perhaps less so. They hope for the admission of guilt and an apology that will enable them to lay down their pain and move on with their lives. For my part, I’m coming along as a filmmaker, curious to find out if our community can finally break free from the burden of this genocidal history.

Participants are responsible for making their own travel plans to and from Athens, Ohio. The closest airport is Port Columbus International Airport (CMH). The airport has kiosks for all of the major car rental agencies (Hertz, Enterprise, etc.). We will have shuttles available to transport you to Athens from the airport (if you are in need of shuttle transportation, please email us as space is limited).
Ohio University is approximately a five-hour drive from the Washington, D.C. area, and a six-hour drive from the Chicago area. If you are planning to drive to Athens, please let us know and we will send you detailed directions from your starting point.
If you are interested in a homestay, members of the Southeast Asian Studies community at Ohio University can provide weekend accommodation for some forum participants. For additional information on transportation and housing, contact the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at
What to do in Athens
The city of Athens has a lively arts and music scene, plus numerous eclectic shopping and dining options. Spring is beautiful in Athens, and you can engage in various outdoor activities, including kayaking, hiking, road cycling, and mountain biking. For more information on what to do in Athens, visit

Questions? Contact the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at

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