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Cambodian Museum Unveils Collection

A new exhibit opening September 30 at the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial will unveil the institution’s permanent collection of Cambodian paintings, sculpture, bas-reliefs, costumes, and musical instruments.

The exhibit “is about the rebirth of Cambodian arts and culture” following the genocide of 1975-79, said museum director Charles Daas.

“It is art that reveals the true character of the Cambodian people,” whose cultural production “follows deep traditions – about perfection, persistence, community and spirituality” which carry over into daily life, said museum chair Leon Lim, himself a survivor of the Killing Fields.

Museum archivist Ty Tim traveled to Cambodia last year with funding from the Henry J. Luce Foundation to collect artifacts representative of the nation’s arts and culture, including reproductions of sculptures dating back as far as 2,000 years and still used in local ceremonies.

When the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975 they declared “Year Zero” and sought to eradicate Cambodia’s history and traditions, hunting down artisans and dancers, Daas said. The nation’s cultural traditions were kept alive by practitioners who had escaped to refugee camps, he said.

The museum and memorial were founded by the Cambodian Association of Illinoisin 2004 and are “extensions of the healing process that goes on” in the group’s programs, Daas said.

The museum is the only one of its kind in the U.S., and the Killing Fields Memorial is the only memorial to the Khmer Rouge genocide in the world, Daas said. They “play a very special role” in the tight-knit Cambodian community here, he said.

The Cambodian Association is currently also working with other local groups to plan a multi-ethnic healing sculpture garden on a two-acre site at Lawrence and Francisco.

“Khmer Spirit: The Art and Artifacts of Cambodia” opens Sunday, September 30, with festivities from 1 to 5 p.m., at the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial, 2831 W. Lawrence. The Cambodian Association’s dance troupe and music ensemble will give hourly performances, and samples of Cambodian food will be offered. Admission is free, with a donation requested.

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Category: arts, Asian Americans, immigrants, museums

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