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“Language is a place of struggle… our struggle is also a struggle of memory against forgetting.”


This quote by Bell Hooks exemplifies the themes I explore with my work in neon sculpture and digital projected video. I make art to reconcile with the struggle of not knowing my parents’ language and in turn, feeling like I have lost a part of my cultural identity. As the daughter of Cambodian immigrants, I want to preserve the culture they left behind and the culture that will be lost with the passing of my relatives. Yet, how do I do this when I do not speak the language nor does my family talk about their past? I think about my grandfather who kept dozens of journals in a language I cannot read. I think about my grandmother who plays karaoke in a language that I cannot sing along to. How can I tell them that I am there? How can I tell them I belong with you?


I found neon as my source of power and a language of my own that I can express myself in. I translate traditional Cambodian forms into neon to illuminate the darkness a lack of language has casted me in. I build these immersive installations as shrines and offerings to the sacrifices my family made in order to get me here and live my “American Dream”. This is the debt I owe to them.


The digital light projections are configurations of my own befuddled thoughts. The splicing of videos and translation of images through algorithmic programs become visual representations of my confused sense of assimilated and cultural identity.

"From these sources of metaphorical (and literal) light and hope, she constructs immersive installations illuminating her heritage and commenting on the ephemeral natures of culture and personal identity. In the flooding neon light she finds power, serving as a language of her own, allowing for the dramatic creation of ‘shrines and offerings to the sacrifices [her] family made.’"
- Bianca Petrova
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