april - september 2022 | at the lynn museum

The Khmer Identity Exhibition

ស្រមោល | Shadows

exhibit intro

The Shadow always following the body. ស្រមោលអន្ទោលតាមប្រាណ

If our bodies, living and breathing, represent our grounding in the present moment, their shadows are the remembrance of the past.

Shadows, the remembrance of a life that could have been, then displaced to a world that left physical marks (ស្នាម) that can still be seen in the motherland, and marks that can not be seen, as new generations of Khmer diaspora bloom, and inherit these traumas.

Like lakorn sbek (ល្ខោនស្បែក) the traditional shadow puppet used to tell stories in Cambodia, we at Khmer Identity are using shadows and memories, to explore the many interstitial spaces beyond what was and what is Khmer Identity.

The Krama Project

The Krama Project is a photography series consisting of individual self portraits within the Cambodian community in the US. This project is seeking to highlight different Khmer identities while also addressing our ancestors’ experience during the Khmer Rouge regime.

The red and white krama, just like the towers of Angkor, has become a symbol of Khmer identity. While its image can be found in our day to day lives, it was tainted after it was adopted as part of the Democratic Kampuchea uniform. Our goal is to reclaim this image as a symbol of our unity and resiliency.

We shared the sentiment with Séra that besides Tuol Sleng and Choeung Ek, there is no site in Cambodia for our people to gather and remember families that were lost. The sculpture “To Those Who Are No Longer Here” was supposed to be a public sculpture meant to fulfill this lack, until the sculpture itself was removed quietly in the middle of the night. It was then placed in Tuol Sleng, an old high school turned into a torture site, and now a voyeuristic tourist trap – far from the original intention of the artist.

We want to honor Séra with the re-enactment of their work in the form of a photograph and ask the question “how do we heal collectively?”

Don’t Forget Me

A homage to French-Cambodian artist Séra’s sculpture

To Those Who Are No Longer Here

Cambodians within the LGBTQ+ community historically have been excluded and still struggle to have laws in place to protect them from hate crimes. In a 2019 survey by Rainbow Community Kampuchea, more than 80 percent of Khmer LGBTQ+ have suffered emotional abuse from their family members. Many continue to live in the shadows of their own identity, fearing family rejection, societal discrimination, and absue – resulting in living a story not of their own. Model, Charles Chhor, is depicted as a Hindu deity, Vishnu – the Preserver and Protector of the Universe. Our LGBTQ+ community embodies the values of Vishnu, confronting the toxic and unhealthy perspectives within Khmer society and culture – shifting our universe to a place of order, righteousness, and truth in one’s identity.

Protector of the Universe

Cambodia’s garment factories employ some 800,000 people, most of them women, on a monthly minimum wage of $190 US dollars. Exploited by the harsh conditions under capitalism – Khmer women in society carry the weight of many hardships providing for their families but aren’t always given the recognition they deserve. Model, Vy Long, is depicted as Hindu diety, Lakshmi- the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity. As in Hindu mythology, the gods cannot exist without the good fortune that Lakshmi brings, we are as a society cannot exist without our women. Like a lotus rising from the muddy waters, we see the power in Khmer women transcending from limitations placed against them and embodying the virtues of the revered goddess.

Goddess of Wealth & Prosperity

I’ve taught Khmer for over a year now. I can confidently say that I can teach folks how to read and write. In this journey, I learned that Khmer is very difficult to learn. There are a lot of characters and sounds that you have to remember. Some sounds don’t even exist in the English language so folks also have to train their mouth and muscles to be able to produce those sounds.
The Khmer language actually holds the Guiness world record for having the most number of characters in the language.

Khmer Language

In Khmer Culture, each day is represented by a color. Green is the color of Thursday (the day that Phnom Penh fell to Khmer Rouges) and Red is the color of Sunday (the day the Khmer Rouge regime fell with the invasion of the Vietnam into Cambodia). The Krama often portrayed in the red and white checkered scarf is well known symbol of Khmer identity. At its worst it was a part of the Khmer Rouge uniform.
The Elephant with the river of blood touching its belly reference an old story my aunt used to tell me called Puth Tomney (The Buddha’s Prophecy) which supposedly predicted many events including the fall of Phnom Penh.


Are we ok? Is everyone? Look around you, there are things happening that are clearly unfair and unjust to our fellow human beings. How do we create a world where it centered human and our wellness over the amount of labor that we can produce?

Why do people want so much? Why do you want so much? While others have so little…

Time II

Why did Prince Rama ask Princess Sita to walk through fire to prove her love? After all the trials and tribulations, why didn’t he ask if she was ok first before demanding her loyalty?
Why don’t we trust each other?

Seda Walking Through Fire

In America, I seem to be too Cambodian to be American. In Cambodia, I seem to be too American to be Cambodian…even though I was born there. Fair. It’s painful, but there is some truth to it. Diasporic humans dream of their motherland and her culture, while living and assimilating into these new worlds that they have been displaced or migrated to. The reconciliation between the dream world and reality ends up creating a third culture.


Special Thanks

The Khmer Identity Exhibition wouldn’t have been made possible without the support of the following organizations.
Doneeca Thurston

Executive Director at Lynn Museum/LynnArts​

Johny Chau, Charles Chhor, and Vy Long

Featured Models

Thank you to all of our followers for your submissions for the Krama Project
We’re grateful to have so many folks in different parts of the world join us in this journey.