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Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Remembering Cambodia's Lost Artists

In 1975, the tyrannical Khmer Rouge came to power in Cambodia following a brutal civil war. Over the course of the next four years the regime held power, some 1.7 million Cambodians died from starvation, disease, overwork, and genocide. The Khmer Rouge targeted intellectuals, artists, actors, and musicians as undesirables because they didn’t fit Pol Pot's image of a new Cambodia—a country free of all outside influence and any remnant of what he considered “decadent” culture.

The overall effect of this campaign against creatives was disastrous for the country's cultural landscape. By the time the Vietnamese drove the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979, most artists were dead, in exile, or too traumatized to practice their craft. Below, we partnered with illustrator Nathan Gelgud to honor five Cambodian visionaries lost during this tragic time in conjunction with Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia, coming to the 2017 Next Wave Festival on Dec 15 & 16.

Vichara Dany was an immensely popular actress in Cambodia who made her screen debut in the mid-1960s. She starred in a number of films during the nation's golden age of cinema, often alongside actor Kong Sam Eun. Details of her life are relatively unknown, but she is believed to have perished shortly after the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Kong Som Eun was an acclaimed Cambodian actor and film director who ruled the film industry from the mid-1960s through the early 1970s. He starred in more than half of the films released from 1967—75, appearing in more than 120 films in fewer than 10 years! Like Vichara Dany, his life and career were cut short when the Khmer Rouge intervened.

Saom Vansodany was a famous Cambodian actress, appearing on screen from the late 1960s until 1975. She appeared primarily in melodramatic films like Thavory Meas Bong and Sovannahong, and was married to fellow actor Chea Yuthorn. Details of her life are relatively unknown, but she is believed to have perished from overwork under the Khmer Rouge regime shortly after giving birth to her son.

Ros Sereysothea was a Cambodian singer most active during the final years of Cambodia’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum period. She sang hundreds of songs over the course of her career, and was even granted the honorary title “Queen with the Golden Voice” by King Norodom Sihanouk in the 1960s. She died during Democratic Kampuchea's regime of the Khmer Rouge, although circumstances of her fate remain a mystery.

Sinn Sisamouth was one of the most famous and beloved Cambodian singers of all time. Widely considered the "King of Khmer music," Sin Sisamouth, along with Ros Sereysothea and other Khmer artists, was part of a thriving pop music scene in Phnom Penh that blended elements of Khmer traditional music with the sounds of R&B and rock and roll. Sisamouth died during the Khmer Rouge regime.

Bangsokol: A Requiem for Cambodia comes to the BAM Howard Gilman Opera House on Friday, December 15, and great tickets are still available.

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