Arts & Career: SOKAI YOON, talented digital artist from the Cambodian diaspora in Atlanta
Dear readers, in the continuity of my series of portraits of uncommon KHMERS around the world, here is an interview today that took place between the USA and France, in order to show how extended and united our diaspora can be. The choice fell on a talented, atypical … and Khmerican digital artist: SOKAI YOON.
You in a few words
My name is Sokai, of Khmer Krom origin and born in a refugee camp in Thailand. I live in the USA, in Atlanta. You hold an MFA in visual arts from NEW YORK. (master of fine arts) What was your synthesis project?
I chose a delicate subject, talking about an imaginary system called ‘responsible weapons’ using weapons operating at low energies. The system would use all possible existing technologies, particularly in schools, to provide the energy that corresponds to its use, informed of the purchase and registration of the weapon (ex: a certain power would be given to the weapon according to whether you are a hunter, a policeman, etc.). This would make it possible to detect and list the bearers of weapons, in order to penalise in particular those who use them without justification.
Your Instagram account has as many videos/short stories as CAD (computer drawings). Do you have a preference?
Photography is basically my favourite activity. It allows me to meet people, get to know them or expand my network. I then transpose them into characters in my creative projects.
How do you choose your subjects?
In general, I organize castings via Instagram or Facebook. Otherwise I also work with the director of the Khmer dance troupe RACHANA PERFORMING ARTS. of Atlanta when he called on my services. (video productions)
Your series where you revisit: Khmer history, legendary warriors, fashion – or even kings and queens – have been a hit on the net. Where did those ideas come from?
I always think of everything I see as a Khmer version of things. It can go, and has been since my childhood, to the Khmer version of the English songs that I used to listen to, to the history of the 3 kingdoms of China. In 1996, a supernatural experience during my stay at Srok gave me this trigger to concretise all this, in particular to create Cambodian ghost stories.
Do you think your work can inspire the new American generation to discover their country of origin?
From the start I received a lot of positive feedback from the Khmerican community, who described my work as a breath of fresh air and an inspiration to promote our culture. Tell us about your crazy fashion project beyond the Khmer Rouge? This idea came from a conversation I had with a Cambodian designer who notably creates traditional Khmer theatre costumes.
We then wanted to imagine the quintessence of fashion and its evolution if there had not been the tragedy of the Khmer Rouge, based on great designers such as Alexander McQueen, Versace or Chanel.
About your legendary warriors project, how did you choose?
This project started by writing on Wikipedia the topics monarchs and warriors of Cambodia. I then transposed them into graphic series.
How did you arrive at this graphic result?
I like to imagine a combination between the characters of the video game Dynasty Warriors and those of the Indian painter Raja ravi varma. What is the place of Khmer culture in your daily American life? I draw my main source of culture at home from my mother, a fervent Buddhist practitioner, and with whom I exchange Khmer on a daily basis.
What were your 3 favourite achievements?
successfully repaying my student loan
My first publication in Infographics Designers’ Sketchbooks
my features for Android that’s listed as Google’s Best of Design 2020
What were your most difficult creations to design?
The YAK video for the Khmer dancer Peter Veth and the realisation of the combination of traditional Khmer sound with Hip-Hop sound.
What are your future projects? Have you considered NFTs?
My latest current project is called STAR LOTUS, through which I will be collaborating with many troupes of Khmer dancers across the United States and adding my own artistic vision.
Do you have projects in Srok Khmer or would you like to have some?
I would like ideally to be able – one day – to spend at least a year in Srok Khmer in order to be able to collaborate with local artists, and carry out joint projects, such as those carried out or in progress in the USA.
Any advice to give?
''JUST DO IT! DONE! '' Because whatever your level, fulfil your passions because the new generation has this opportunity to be able to … so do not hesitate any longer. Interview by par Françoise Framboise