A Change of Guard

សូមស្តាប់វិទ្យុសង្គ្រោះជាតិ Please read more Khmer news and listen to CNRP Radio at National Rescue Party. សូមស្តាប់វីទ្យុខ្មែរប៉ុស្តិ៍/Khmer Post Radio.
Follow Khmerization on Facebook/តាមដានខ្មែរូបនីយកម្មតាម Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/khmerization.khmerican

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Five Questions with... Prumsodun OK [A Cambodian from Long Beach]

Prumsodun Ok speaking at the TED Conference. Photo courtesy of James Duncan Davidson.

Friday, November 25, 2011
by Long Beach Post | Staff Reports

2:30pm | Prum is a local artist, activist, and teacher. His work within classic Cambodian dance, where he is wildly experimental and addresses LGBTQ issues, has earned him the prestigious honor of being a TED Fellow. He is also the Executive Director of VoiceWaves, a non-profit that encourages and focuses on youth-driven journalism and media projects that shed light on and provide narratives about Long Beach's less affluent and more marginalized areas.

How, exactly, does one become involved in such a specific art form like classic Cambodian dance?

"I feel in many ways the dance chose me. When I was four-years-old, I would wear my sister's red dress and I would imitate Cambodian dance movements from tapes my father had recorded in the 80s. My family would record me and eventually poke fun at me -- and this caused me to push away away from it. Not only was there no teacher in the area to help me refine my dance, it revealed so much of my femininity. I eventually was teased to such an extent that I became ashamed of it. When I was 16, my little sisters began dancing and I would watch them at their dance classes here in Long Beach. Eventually, even though I was terrified, I just asked their teacher if I could practice classical Cambodian dance -- their teacher being Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, who happened to be on her path to becoming one of the world's leading classical Cambodian choreographers. She's now a NEA Heritage Fellow, Guggenheim Fellow, USA Knight Fellow, and a Nekkei Asian Prize recipient."

How does your art tie in with your family's history and your relationship with them?

"Growing up, I was always the black sheep of my family -- it takes a lot to put on a red dress and be feminine. Something that was once cute suddenly became something that was scary for them: 'Uh-oh, let's not talk about it.' As that type of ideology became more and more apparent, my trajectory as an artist and intellectual really ripped me away from my family. Don't get me wrong: it was my family that brought me back to Long Beach [after studying at San Francisco Art Institute in film], it is not that I do not love my family... But my parents are peasant farmers in Cambodia, they survived a horrible genocide, and are now alienated in American society. For their whole lives, they've been tied to the land and sun and poverty... So to see their son display such potential within academia and art, it's a hard thing for them to accept. They don't really get what I do and I think this is a disconnect that Cambodian-Americans understand. They were really antagonistic to my dance: if I said I was a TED Fellow or that I studied with Peter Sellars or that my academic work is getting recognized -- that would mean nothing to them."

How did you become a prestigious TED Fellow?

"I had met [Ethopian singer and 2009 TED Fellow, as well as New York University and De Young artist-in-residence] Meklit Hadero, while I was living in San Francisco -- at a time I was super-shy and timid -- walked up to me after we first met and said, 'We are going to be best friends for the rest of our lives -- I know it.' This amazing singer-songwriter, someone who has been called a mix between Joni Mitchell and Nina Simone, is coming up to this utterly shy boy and calling me out. And... She was right. After she received her Fellow in 2009, she called me and told me I had to apply for it as well. And I did and that's that."

What exactly is a Fellow?

"It varies based upon the individual person. For me, it is really designed to raise the visibility of the work that Fellows are doing so that their work can be more impacting [sic], more tangible for the world. It is about fostering an particular person's talent or art or research. It allows them -- particularly in this really rough economy -- to raise them up. For some people, just getting the award means a plethora of things: it means prestige, it means a job, it means connections, it means visibility, it means getting your projects funded.

How did you become involved in VoiceWaves, your non-profit dedicated to providing youths a voice?

"The thing about growing up poor is that there is this cycle of violence, this cycle of poverty that you're thrown into. And it's very hard to leave, it's very difficult to escape. I think being poor manifests in two ways: very tangible ways -- no car, no resources, no money to succeed -- but more importantly for me, having grown up poor, are the intangible ways it manifests: a lack of vision, a lack of ideas, a lack of inspiration. Thankfully I have training with the world's leading Cambodian choreographer and had a chance to expose myself to that community. She was the most influential person in my youth to truly light the fire of my spirit and lead it. So before I thought of myself as an artist -- remember, I wasn't being trained to be an artist but I was being trained to hang onto my roots -- and throughout school, I had always wanted to be a teacher. Ever since I was young, I was tutoring people and being a class aide and helping my dance teacher teach... I came back to teach at the YMCA institute and that made me firmly believe that any chance I have to help those in need, any chance I have to let kids have a platform to share their ideas and voice, to own and hone that voice, to maximize and refine that voice, and to connect that voice to other social and cultural dialogues that are happening -- I will always take that chance."


Anonymous said...

I'm a peasant farmer. I think he is intellectually gay.

Anonymous said...

You think, he is an intellectually gay and you are ?