i love the way you see the world, but why can't you see me?

  • Sopheak Sam, M.F.A. in Creative Visual Arts, 2025
  • Hometown

    Lowell, Massachusetts
  • Website

    Sopheak Sam

Exploring refugeehood and my family history, this exhibition in Tjaden Hall's Experimental Gallery incorporates photographs from my eldest brother's collection of images capturing his time in the Khao-I-Dang refugee camp as a teacher aide. The camp was a transient site of temporary resettlement (1979-1993) for my family after surviving the Cambodian genocide and fleeing to the border from the ensuing Vietnamese conflict and the enduring Cold War. My brother's analog photographs are superimposed with my own digital images of Khao-I-Dang upon physically returning there in November 2022 as part of my Fulbright Fellowship.

The work is driven by sensuous materiality (primarily concrete, wood, and paper pulp) while using visual strategies of opacity and overlap (paint, fabrics, and inkjet image transfers) to reveal and conceal images of landscapes and bodies to destabilize time/space and renegotiate diasporic belonging. Breeze blocks, ironwork, and garlands reference globalized labor and postcolonial materiality that activates a haptic tension between hard and soft. Engaging in a process of (dis)translation, I reproduce visual languages from Khmer tradition and modernity, including "kbach" ornamentation, New Khmer Architecture, and vernacular Buddhism. This framework of (dis)translation borrows José Esteban Muñoz's concept of (dis)identification [1] and Homi Bhabha’s theorization on mimicry [2] wherein mimesis occurs through replicating, i.e. doubling, mirroring, while resisting to reproduce form and processes essentialized as "authentic." In turn, an aesthetic hybridity is synthesized through affective labor. With my hands, as with my immigrant parents' hands, I honor this labor. I reveal image transfers through rubbings, sculpting paper clay made from personal ephemera, and building makeshift and impermanent structures that inevitably break down (particularly fixed within this gallery context).

Through this embodied labor, I am mining the past/present/future as a site of simultaneity. Constructed objects are queered through counter-progression: repetition, deferral, and dwelling to problematize them as neither functional nor futuristic. Forms open and close, landscapes reveal and conceal, figures disappear and reappear. Horizons and vanishing points obscure what lies beyond. i love the way you see the world, but why can’t you see me? resists being and cruises inscrutable spaces of unknowingness and unnameability to reimagine counter-memorial possibilities of becoming. This body of work takes pleasure in its ambiguity and sentimentalism—evoking gates, doors, altars, and procession objects that demarcate boundary, loss, and longing for the impossibility of a memorialized past.


[1] Muñoz, José Esteban. Disidentifications: Queers of Color and the Performance of Politics. University of Minnesota Press, 1999.

[2] Bhabha, Homi. "Of Mimicry and Man: The Ambivalence of Colonial Discourse." October 28 (1984): 125–33. https://doi.org/10.2307/778467.

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