Empowering Roots: Kim Hak's Alive IV Exhibition Connects Cambodian Heritage Across Generations in Japan and Cambodia

Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Last year, Rei Foundation was proud to support two exhibitions of acclaimed Cambodian artist Kim Hak’s Alive IV, the latest in a series of works in his Alive series, in Yokohama and Phnom Penh.

Hak was born in Northeast Cambodia, two years after the Khmer Rouge fell from power. After spending years listening to his parents' experiences of that turbulent time, Hak started a photographic art project, Alive, in 2014, collecting and preserving stories of survivors of the Khmer Rouge period through both text and striking photographic images. Alive appealed to Rei Foundation because of the powerful community-building potential of the project as well as Hak’s singular talent.

Following the success of the latest chapter of Alive, Alive IV, in Tokyo and Yokohama in 2022, in June 2023 Alive IV, was held once again in Yokohama, Japan, and from August to September 2023 also in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, this time curated by independent Cambodian curator, Meta Meong. The exhibition in Yokohama was initiated by a new voluntary organisation, also named Alive, who were initially formed by three women with Cambodian roots from different generational backgrounds, who were inspired by the 2022 exhibition of Hak's work. Alive has been established with the vision of “a future where young people with Cambodian roots living in Japan can be proud of their roots and where their authentic selves can flourish to the maximum.”

Slider Image Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Works featured in Kim Hak’s Alive IV exhibition at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

According to Hak, “Alive IV was structured around the stories of 12 Cambodian families, including international students who were unable to return to their country due to the turmoil within Cambodia in the 1970s, and refugees who came to Japan in the 1980s.”

Beginning in 1978, Japan began accepting refugees from Southeast Asia, including around 1300 Cambodians. Alive IV features forty images and texts of items that some of those refugees were able to keep with them when they fled from Cambodia via refugee camps to Japan. From a pile of unused cassettes to a long, shining scar on a subject's forearm, Alive IV reveals a poignant and very human reflection of the conflict and its lingering effects.

A thoughtfully developed public programme of lectures and interactive viewings that promoted discussion ran alongside the exhibition, deepening the connection between the works and the community.

The sessions were varied, and included one that looked at the 1.5 generation, those who immigrated either before or during their early adolescence, and their aging parents. Video interviews and survey data revealed the barriers facing those with the desire to live out the remainder of their lives in Japan and the associated issues of living costs, medical care and other barriers in the hope dialogue would reveal ways to improve the situation.

Slider Image  Kim Hak Alive exhibition poster in Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Kim Hak Alive exhibition poster in Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image Children performing traditional Cambodian Dance at the opening event of Alive IV at Yokohama Coast, Japan. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Children performing traditional Cambodian Dance at the opening event of Alive IV at Yokohama Coast, Japan. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image Kim Hak giving his opening speech at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Kim Hak giving his opening speech at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image Traditional dance at the opening of Kim Hak’s Alive IV at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit by Hikaru Nakamura.

Traditional dance at the opening of Kim Hak’s Alive IV at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit by Hikaru Nakamura.

Slider Image Alive IV participants participating in the launch event of Alive IV at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit by Hikaru Nakamura.

Alive IV participants participating in the launch event of Alive IV at Yokohama Coast. Photo credit by Hikaru Nakamura.

Another session exploring inter-generational cultural transmission, the process by which cultural knowledge, values and practices are passed down to successive generations, was held that included discussions between the first and 1.5 generations and interviews with those who fled Cambodia as teens. The presentation included a visit from a Khmer classical dance instructor based in France.

Rei Foundation has recognised this project as contributing to our objectives. This includes the desire that those with Cambodian roots in Japan, who have undergone many struggles in their lives in the new country, interact with their histories, not only the difficult experiences that their families have gone through, but also the idea that their resilience (strength), vitality, creativity, and their power and courage to hope and dream are important components of their heritages. As the Alive project develops, Rei Foundation has been pleased to see that the project is having a significant impact on the communities, with members of those communities starting to take the lead with their own projects to address the unique qualities and issues of their own communities.

Slider Image Alive participants leading the session at Preah Srey Icanavarman Museum- SOSORO Museum, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Hikaru Nakamura.

Alive participants leading the session at Preah Srey Icanavarman Museum- SOSORO Museum, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Hikaru Nakamura.

Slider Image Exhibition attendees sharing their thoughts with each other at the exhibition opening at Sosoro. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Exhibition attendees sharing their thoughts with each other at the exhibition opening at Sosoro. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image One of the Alive IV participants talking about the photographs that feature his story. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

One of the Alive IV participants talking about the photographs that feature his story. Photo credit: Hikaru Nakamura

Slider Image Artist Kim Hak delivering a welcome speech at the Preah Srey Icanavarman Museum- SOSORO Museum, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Hikaru Nakamura.

Artist Kim Hak delivering a welcome speech at the Preah Srey Icanavarman Museum- SOSORO Museum, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. Photo by Hikaru Nakamura.

Slider Image Moeng Meta, the exhibition curator and artist Kim Hak at the Preah Srey Icanavarman Museum, also known as SOSORO Museum. Photo by Hikaru Nakamura.

Moeng Meta, the exhibition curator and artist Kim Hak at the Preah Srey Icanavarman Museum, also known as SOSORO Museum. Photo by Hikaru Nakamura.

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