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Scholarship, artistry to come together this week during NIU’s ‘Imagining Cambodia’ conference

September 10, 2012
David Chandler

David Chandler

Scholars and artists from around the world will convene Thursday through Sunday at NIU for Imagining Cambodia, the first international Cambodia Studies Conference to be held in the United States.

The conference will:

  • welcome eminent Cambodia historian David Chandler as keynote speaker Friday, Sept. 14;
  • introduce Cambodian filmmaker Chhay Bora that same night at a public screening of Bora’s critically acclaimed film, Lost Loves; and
  • honor renowned Cambodian-American composer Chinary Ung in a special public concert of his music at 8 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 15, in Boutell Memorial Concert Hall.

Organized by NIU’s Cambodia Studies Working Group and sponsored by the Center for Southeast Asian Studies (CSEAS), more than 60 papers to be presented at the interdisciplinary conference will address topics ranging from economics in modern Cambodia to culture, memory and genocide.

“NIU organized the conference because with five faculty members who work on Cambodia, we have the strongest Cambodia Studies program in the U.S.,” said anthropology professor and CSEAS Director Judy Ledgerwood, noting that previous conferences have been held in France and Australia.

Judy Ledgerwood

Judy Ledgerwood

“We have faculty specialists in anthropology, foreign languages, history and political science. We have regular field schools that take students to Cambodia and agreements with universities there that help bring students from Cambodia to study at NIU.”

Anchored by Chandler’s keynote address, “Witnessing Cambodian History,” the conference program brings together not only scholars but performing and visual artists, a combination by design, Ledgerwood said.

“So often discussions of Cambodia focus on war and genocide and those who suffer from the aftereffects of these events,” she said. “The idea for the conference was to evoke new ways of imagining Cambodia that included the explosion of creativity in the visual and performing arts, as well as discussions of change in post-conflict society.”

The work of contemporary Cambodian photographers Khvay Samnang and Lim Sokchanlina will be featured in “Current Views and Actions,” an exhibit at the NIU Art Museum, part of a suite of exhibits focusing on Southeast Asia. The public is invited to a reception for all of the exhibits from 4:30 to 6 p.m. Sept. 13.

The Friday, Sept. 14, screening of Lost Loves at 8 p.m. in Fay-Cooper Cole Hall will include remarks by the film’s director, Chhay Bora. The film, which is being submitted to the Academy Awards this year in the best foreign-film category, is the first feature-length work about the Khmer Rouge era in more than two decades.

The screenplay was written by Kauv Sotheary, whose mother’s experience during the brutal Khmer Rouge era from 1975 to 1979 forms the basis of the film. Survivors themselves, Bora and Sotheary are married.

Chinary Ung

Chinary Ung

NIU associate music professor and percussionist Gregory Beyer is the architect behind the Saturday, Sept. 15, concert, which will feature six musicians including Beyer playing works by Ung, who briefly taught at NIU early in his career.

Ung is now an internationally known composer whose work will be performed at The Juilliard School in New York City the week after the conference.

The conference will close Sunday, Sept. 16, with a field trip to the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial in Chicago.

NIU’s Cambodia Studies Working Group – Ledgerwood; Kenton Clymer (history), Kheang Leang (foreign languages and literatures), Kheang Un (political science), and Trude Jacobsen (history) – spent the past year working on conference plans with CSEAS Outreach Coordinator Julie Lamb and Anne Petty Johnson, director of the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences External Programming office.

The event is co-sponsored by the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Ohio University and the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. It is funded in part by grants from the Asian Cultural Council, the Henry Luce Foundation, the NIU Foundation through its Venture Grant program, the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences and the Graduate Colloquium Series.

For conference details, see the CSEAS website or email [email protected].

by Liz Poppens Denius