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CAMBODIAN GIRL

Dreamed 1996/4/2, sculpture 1999, by Chris Wayan

I dream I'm in a cafe. I meet my friend Silky, who said she'd be wearing yellows and greens. No problem finding her amid the businesspeople--Silky's in a cloud of loose, layered, gauze skirts over a green leotard.

She says "Don't worry, you'll find a girlfriend soon." That cheers me up--Silky's intuitions are pretty reliable.

A Cambodian girl walks up to us and stares silently. I stare back: she's under 5 feet tall, but about 3 feet of that is leg. A child's torso and head on adult legs! Both sexy and creepy--long bare legs revealed by a little girl's short dress.

And why'd she walk up just when Silky said that? Like the prediction summoned her, like she appeared in answer. But I want a WHOLE girl like Silky, not a distorted refugee child! Cambodian refugee girl dressing like a prostitute but quite repressed, haunted by revolutionary memories. Full view of sculpture. Click to enlarge.

Or is this just a growth-stage? Maybe she'll grow into proportion.

She acts shy, yet sits at our table without asking. She faces me exactly, so I see right up her tiny skirt. She's naked under the dress--her cunt's bare. Rosy, smooth, a little girl's lips, even more naked without adult hair--but between long adult thighs. I'm shocked but excited too--and ashamed. Glance away, look back, then think "SHE's flashing ME! I'm not the one doing it. Though... she seems embarrassed, not flirty... like she was ORDERED to do this."

She asks me shyly "Do your friend's clothes mean she is... prostitute?"

I say firmly "The colors mean spring, life and growth. Those casual thin layers showing her body say prostitute in your culture, but here they say 'I'm a dancer, I'm calm and friendly.'"

She ponders this. I start to respect her: a child's face, but those precocious legs carried her out of the holocaust. Proportion's not everything! She asks "What's sexually PROPER here?" And I get it. She's still haunted by the killing fields.

I know the feeling: I was raised by leftists. If I'm sexist, if I flirt wrong--it's the firing squad for me! I too act like a prostitute: fill others' needs and fantasies, stunting and distorting myself... to avoid the killing fields.

It's time to face the shadow of my radical heritage. Idealism, yes... but push any ideals too far, and...

WHEN I WOKE

I sculpted her as a reminder. I wish now that I'd made her even more distorted, younger and shyer above the waist, even leggier and more adult below--Barbie dolls have numbed us so much that this statue, because she's Barbie-scale, looks almost normal. Yet if you met a living person proportioned like this, you'd be shocked. I wonder how she looks to you on the Web, without a real-world context to show you she's Barbie-sized?

A word on the background, which seems to mystify people--even mislead them.

That dark hooded figure haunting the Cambodian girl isn't some Bergmanesque personification of death, but something much more specific: leftist extremism, the harsh conscience of a radical. Hammer and Sickle, not just sickle! The Khmer Rouge and similar fanatics.

Cambodian refugee haunted by spectre of Khmer Rouge. Dream-statue by Wayan. Cambodian girl and her traumatic memories

That isn't theoretical. I grew up a California leftist. Always watching my thoughts and deeds, trying to be as pure in my way as any fundamentalist. I grew up to find the world less black and white than what I was taught as a kid. (But I still vote Green. Moderating my overharsh conscience is one thing; stomaching Republicrats is another.)

The yinyang at the top stands for Asia. I tried to sculpt a proper Buddhist lotus/wheel-of-the-law but it kept cracking--my woodworking just wasn't up to it. So let's pretend this simpler yinyang form stands for the Hinayana Buddhism of Cambodia, not Chinese Taoism, okay? They do have a quiet acceptance in common, a drive toward harmony not heroic resistance. Did that help make the killing fields possible, did Cambodians see their holocaust as merely a bad dream, another manifestation of Maya?

Yin and Yang also reflect the figure-field reversals that people raised by true believers feel as we grow up... as experience turns our trained certainties on their heads. In every Yang, a drop of Yin...

And yes, the vaginal shape of the boat isn't a coincidence. I have to admit, though, that the shrouded figure of radicalism, in just the right place for a clit (it's even hooded!) was completely unconscious. And a bit strange, really, given the rather puritanical nature of the Khmer Rouge.

Yet this image of a vaginal boat with a powerful but repressive clitoral figure repeated in another dream around the same time, THIEF OF DREAMS.

Sex and repression, completely fused... weird!
Bas-relief of Cambodia, detail of the dream-sculpture 'Cambodian Girl.' Bas-relief of California, detail of the dream-sculpture 'Cambodian Girl.'


The silhouettes to left and right are of course Cambodia and California. You recognize them, right? I don't expect everyone to know Cambodian script (or U.S. postal abbreviations) but you DID study geography in school, right?

Well, when I showed this piece to my sculpture classmates for critic, I was stunned to learn that not one had a clue what those shapes were... and one of them is their own home state!

Anyway, from killing fields to California... it's a hard journey to make. Many steps. May your legs hold out!

And once you've made it out, and you're safe and free... then your soul has to catch up. A last step everyone wants to forget.

But our bodies just won't.

Cambodian refugee girl in her boat...


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