Kosal Khiev, Cambodia
In these works, I depict art and life as parallel, a mirror to each other’s reflection.
Flower Pot is a portrait of my beloved Marisa Eve Abraham, who was pregnant with our darling Komari at the time. This work is a reminder to myself that planting a seed of any kind requires not just the act of planting, but the countless acts afterwards. The love and attention. The care and patience it takes to see what we have made blossom. For the viewer, I wish that it may too, remind you, that you have the power to make incredible changes in the world, not only within yourself. It is rare to know or control the outcome of anything. At best, we hope for the best results. What we can control is what we choose to nurture.
Return to Sender is an autobiographical artwork about love and acceptance. Set in a refugee camp near the border of Thailand, Camp 009, I am a year old here. It is 1975 and the Khmer Rouge war begins. In 1980, I was born. In 1981, my family of nine consisting of my mother, grandmother, three older brothers and three older sisters seek refuge in the United States of America without my father. Raised in America, at 13, I joined one of the first Cambodian gangs to be established after resettlement. At 15, I was then sent to a slave labor camp under the guise of a boys’ and girls’ home, a place called New Bethany Home for Boys and Girls. A year into that, the state shut it down for reasons of child abuse. That same year, I would be arrested and charged for ‘gang related’ attempted murder. In 1998, I was sentenced to 16 years, 85% with 2 strikes. From 1999 to 2001, I was sent to solitary confinement, “The Hole”. From there, I bounced around through a few different prisons until my parole date in 2010. I was then handed over to the custody of ICE Homeland Security and was detained for another year. My refugee permanent resident status was revoked and I became a criminal alien. In 2011, I was deported back to Cambodia. This art is based on an actual photograph that my father had kept of me.
NicoSen is a tribute piece to my nephew NicoSen, whose strength of spirit is one of the strongest I know. Born with a few complications, we were initially told that his tiny life hung in the balance, and that he would not make it. If he did by some miracle, we were told he would not live a normal life. But with a whole lot of love, prayers and a bit of faith, he is well, recovering, and getting stronger by the day, living an extraordinary life. I hope this piece inspires strength and hope from within. That no matter what the circumstances may be, love and life will always find its way.
Kosal Khiev is a multi-gifted artist. Since being released from 16 years of incarceration and forcibly deported back to Cambodia in the spring of 2011, his life seems to be one made out of the movies. Without knowing how to navigate his newfound freedom, he sought art to lead and guide him. In 2012, he was officially invited to the London Summer Olympics as part of a Cultural Olympiad representing Cambodia as its first premiere poet. This can be seen in his critically acclaimed multi-award winning documentary Cambodian Son by Studio Revolt. Abandoned by America, the world has accepted him all over. From facilitating creative writing workshops, to live performances, Khiev has graced the stages of Berlin to Copenhagen, Singapore to Malaysia, London to Paris, Bali to Bangladesh. He again collaborated with Studio Revolt alongside CAAM (Center of Asian American Media) and pbs.org, and together created Verses in Exile, a stunning visual webisode series shot in four parts. Now, with a few films under his repertoire, Kosal is diving into the world of Visual Art, which has been his first passion that began with doodles and sketches. His first solo exhibition was held in Siem Reap at the Little Red Fox Expresso. A success for having sold multiple works, he now wishes to further other mediums of art to see how they may inspire or engage conversations between and amongst individuals and communities.