Glimmering in the Cambodian sun, the custom-made hairpin held by designer Chantha Thoeun is laden with symbolism. This bronze piece depicts a rumduol, the graceful national flower of Cambodia. Amid the bleakest era in this country’s history, as Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge communist party committed genocide in the 1970s, the rumduol continued to bloom, offering rare displays of splendour amid a torrent of despair.
Thoeun, 40, now attempts to replicate this feat of nature by creating beauty from tragedy. He has no siblings, his mother is dead and his father was killed by the Khmer Rouge, which massacred about two million Cambodians. As an orphan, he was taught to become a blacksmith and now, paying homage to his parents and murdered countrymen, he turns old bullets and bombshells into jewellery.
“I want to highlight the plight of the Khmer people and what they have had to endure,” Thoeun says. “I believe it is a strong statement about my country and what people can do. Turning something negative that was used to kill millions of Khmer people, including my dad, into something of hope, strength and endurance.”