The revival of Cambodia’s rich and unique cultural heritage has fueled the country’s impressive recovery from the Khmer Rouge’s genocide of 1975-79. This message rang unmistakably true as the Season of Cambodia (SOC) has dazzled New York audiences in museums, universities, galleries, and performing arts centers over the past month. Both the U.S. and the Cambodian governments stand to learn from this game-changing lesson for post-conflict development strategy, but neither government seems to have noticed.
The 125 Cambodian artists supported and hosted by over 30 New York institutions have revealed the near miraculous preservation of the venerated arts of shadow puppetry and Cambodian classical ballet, as well as the dynamic new visions in dance, visual arts, and film of the artists from Cambodia’s youthful majority (70 percent under age 30).
To understand the significance of creative expression and cultural heritage in rebuilding Cambodia, you have first to understand the utter devastation wreaked by the Khmer Rouge during their reign of terror.
Nearly a third of the population, between 1.7 and 2.5 million out of a total population of 8 million, was killed between 1975-79. The dictator Pol Pot, himself with a degree from the Sorbonne, targeted anyone with an education. Ninety per cent of artists and intellectuals were murdered.