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Dual Exhibitions Explore Cambodia Through Art and Photography


Programs at The American University of Paris seek to engage students and other members of our global community in exploring issues of international importance through multidisciplinary lenses. In October 2022, for example, the MA in Diplomacy and International Law offered a three-week module covering the conflict and conflict resolution in Cambodia, which coincided with two exhibitions that explored Cambodian history and culture through the media of photography, art and performance.

The special module, entitled “Cambodia: War and Resilience,” introduced students to conflict resolution processes in Cambodia, including analysis of the prolonged refugee crisis on the country’s borders during the Khmer Rouge period, in order to understand more fully how Cambodia was engulfed in one of the 20th century’s worst genocides. The module was taught by David Feingold, an anthropologist and award-winning documentary filmmaker with over five decades of field experience in South East Asia.

Feingold is currently director of the Ophidian Research Institute and Ophidian Films Limited. He served for over 15 years as International Coordinator for HIV, AIDS and Trafficking at UNESCO, Bangkok, where he developed and directed their regional program. He has worked extensively on a wide range of projects in Cambodia, including three years on the impacts of landmines, and has directed several documentary films such as Waiting for Cambodia, which explored the politics of one of the region’s largest refugee camps during the Khmer Rouge period. Four of Feingold’s films were screened for students as part of the graduate module.

The Cambodia exhibitions made use of both of AUP’s permanent on-campus exhibition spaces: the AUP Fine Arts Gallery, which stretches across the ground floor of the Student Life and Learning Commons, and a new dedicated gallery in the Monttessuy Center for the Arts. The Fine Arts Gallery hosted “War and Beauty,” a photographic exploration of Feingold’s time in Cambodia from 1961 to the present, including photos from his time in refugee camps. Monttessuy meanwhile hosted a companion exhibition of contemporary Cambodian art, also titled “War and Resilience.”

The exhibitions began with a vernissage, attended by the Cambodian ambassador to France, that took place at AUP on October 5. “Several Cambodian students came to the launch event,” says Feingold. “It was interesting to have the opportunity to see the reactions that the photographs elicited.” Following the vernissage, there was a Cambodian dance performance, which took place in the Olivia de Havilland Theater in the Monttessuy Center for the Arts and which took the form of an Apsara blessing in memory of Feingold’s late wife, Heather Peters, an anthropologist and human rights activist specializing in China studies, who passed away in 2021.

Feingold and Peters had a long tradition of collaboration with AUP, and in particular with Professor Susan Perry, Director of the MA in Diplomacy and International Law. The couple taught a series of intensive modules for graduate students and supervised several capstone theses. “The thing that is extremely enjoyable about AUP students is the tremendous variety of backgrounds and difference,” says Feingold. “Often in our classes we would have people who spoke five languages.” Feingold also employed AUP students as interns during his time at UNESCO.

The Cambodia exhibitions ran from October 5–28 and were made possible by a series of generous grants from Spunk Fund, Inc. Boriša Falatar ’00 also provided a lecture on cultural preservation in conflict zones as part of the associated module. Special thanks go to Professor Jonathan Shimony, Curator of the Fine Arts Gallery, alumna Laurence Vagassky ’95 and graduate student Sandra Lefaure, who worked closely with Feingold when organizing the event.

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