Sitting inside the dimly-lit reception area of the Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) in Phnom Penh, I nervously took note of the time: nearly 45 years since the Khmer Rouge came to power; almost 40 years since his escape and journey toward survival; 20 years since the inception of the Cambodian Living Arts, and merely an hour-and-a-half to capture it all through the inadequacy of words. Amidst the discomforting silence that was occasionally interrupted by the pacing steps of the CLA artists and staff across the hall, my knees rocked to the sound of every passing second on the wall clock as I became overwhelmed by the time that was weighing on me.
Arn Chorn-Pond is the founder of the Cambodian Living Arts and a celebrated musician, he’s also known as one of the few children who survived the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge era (1975-79). Truth be told, upon meeting him, I reckoned much less about his celebrated status that had until then, made its way into my scribbled notes. Instead, I was drawn more toward the air of humility that adorned Arn; in addition to wearing his larger-than-life laugh and the checkered-printed krama around his neck, with woven colors that appeared to alternate much like his experiences of resilience and despair. I soon came to realize that his story – tantamount to the collective history of the people in Cambodia and their efforts (or lack of) to deal with past atrocities – was akin to photographic memories; so vivid that they did not need my words to be revived.