Lauren Iida’s love affair with Cambodia began by accident. In 2008, the Japanese American artist was on her way to Bangkok when political unrest rerouted her flight to Phnom Penh. She immediately felt at home. Soon she began dividing her time between her hometown, Seattle, and various parts of the country — drawn in part, she says, to “the resilience of the people.”
While the majority of Cambodians were not alive at the time of the Khmer Rouge genocide of 1975–79, the country remains haunted by its memory. Among the first to be executed were intellectuals, teachers, and artists. The cultural landscape has been slow to recover.
“In the early days,” Iida says, “there wasn’t much of an art scene at all.” She did eventually find a creative community, though many of those she met couldn’t afford materials or studio space, and they had no training in how to market their finished pieces. In 2018, Iida founded the artists’ collective Open Studio Cambodia to support and promote their work.