In the wake of decades of French colonization and capitalizing on the power vacuum left by years of civil war, Cambodia’s communist party, the Khmer Rouge, took full control of the city of Phnom Penh in 1975, forever redirecting the course of the country’s history.
Bent on eradicating social hierarchies and ethnically cleansing the populace, the Khmer Rouge, led by the brutal dictator Pol Pot, killed some 1.8 million Cambodians during its rule from 1975-1979. The regime specifically targeted teachers, artists, bureaucrats, religious leaders, musicians—anyone considered an intellectual or creative type who could undermine the classless, agrarian society Pot envisioned.
The result was a near complete eradication of the country’s artistic and cultural history.
“The arts function to create civic society, but what happens when genocide or some other catastrophe wears away at civil society and destroys the cultural transmission process necessary for a culture to have their own arts?” says Anne Harley, associate professor of music at Scripps. “Once that connection to the past is broken, it can be very difficult to recapture because the teachers are gone; it’s like recreating history.”
To explore these issues, Harley and Professor of French Nathalie Rachlin co-organized a festival of Cambodian arts that will take place from March 20-24, 2018, dedicated to the role of the arts in healing a nation, which will culminate in a world premiere performance of new music by renowned composers Chinary Ung and Bosba Panh and a screening of The Missing Picture by acclaimed Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh (who recently produced Angelina Jolie’s film on the Cambodian genocide).
All events are free and open to the public. Tickets are required for the world premier music performance and screening of The Missing Picture the evening of March 24.
The festival is supported in part by a National Endowment for the Arts ArtWorks grant awarded to Professors Harley and Rachlin.
Speakers and Events
Tuesday, March 20, 4:15-6:15 p.m.
Bosba Panh Workshop
Boone Recital Hall, Garrison Theater
241 E. 10th St., Claremont
Claremont colleges students studying voice perform songs from the cycle, “Father Mine” (2018), created by the composer especially for this event. Bospa Panh will coach and comment on interpretations.
Wednesday, March 21, 9:35-10:50AM
Presentation on Traditional Cambodian Music in History and in Present-Day Cambodia
Clark Humanities Museum
1030 Columbia Ave., Claremont
Presentation by Keo Sophy and Chinary Ung, visiting O’Brien Professors in collaboration with Professor Cándida Jáquez and her ethnomusicology students.
Wednesday, March 21, 4:15-5:45 p.m.
Music and the Fabric of Post-Genocide Society in Cambodia: Past, Present, and Future
Vita Nova Hall
385 E. Ninth St., Claremont
The panelists will address the creation and sustaining of a musical arts in present-day Cambodia, with three generations’ perspectives on how the arts function to sustain civic values in societies that have suffered deep trauma. Panelists represent three generations of Cambodian artists (Chinary Ung, Rithy Panh, Bospa Panh).
Saturday, March 24, 10:00 a.m.
The Sea Wall (2008), director Rithy Panh
1030 Columbia Avenue, Claremont
A troubled mother’s spirit crumbles when her adult children strike out for independence. Feeling abandoned, she contemplates drastic actions. The film, starring Isabelle Huppert and Gaspard Ulliel, is based on the novel by Marguerite Duras.
Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell (2012), director Rithy Panh
1030 Columbia Avenue, Claremont
During the Khmer Rouge regime, during which some 1.8 Cambodians were killed, Kaing Guek Eav, better known as Duch, ran M13, a Khmer Rouge-controlled prison, for four years before being appointed by the Angkar (“The Organization,” a faceless and omnipresent entity that reigned unopposed over the destiny of the nation) to the S21 center in Phnom Penh. In 2009, Duch became the first leader of the Khmer Rouge organization to be brought before an international criminal justice court. Rithy Panh records Duch’s words, without any trimmings, in the isolation of a face-to-face encounter, couching the interview in archival materials and eyewitness accounts of survivors. As the narrative unfolds, the infernal machine of a system of destruction of humanity implacably emerges through a manic description of the minutiae of its mechanisms.
The Missing Pictures and Sounds of Memory: World Premier Concert, Conversation, and Screening
241 E. 10th Street, Claremont
Emerging from the turmoil of Cambodia’s recent history of violence are three generations of Cambodian artists who are attempting to revive the country’s music and cinema. Composers Bospa Panh and Chinary Ung will present a world premiere performance of new music that interprets their experiences with the Khmer Rouge genocide. Performing “The rigāthā Inside Aura” will be Stacey Fraser and Anne Harley, sopranos/percussion, Susan Ung, viola/voice, Brian Walsh, clarinet/voice, and Nick Terry, percussion/voice.
This screening and performance is free and open to the public, though tickets are required. Tickets may be reserved online.