The paintings of You Khin, a deceased Cambodian artist whose impressionistic work depicted alienation and sadness following the Khmer Rouge, are currently on display at California State University in Dominquez Hills.
You Khin died of lung cancer in 2009. He fled Cambodia in the early 1970s and watched from afar as his country fell to the Khmer Rouge.
The effects of the regime deeply influenced his work, such as “Woman With a Red Baby,” which shows a mother in white turning away from a scarlet newborn.
“You don’t sense any connection or affection between the two,” said James Scarborough, executive director of the Picture Art Foundation. “The mother is really white, and the child is very red. So you’re thinking maybe it was just born. But you still cannot explain why the mother does not react to her child.”
You Khin’s oil paintings tend to tell stories of the past. “Woman With a Red Baby,” for example, is a depiction of a mother and child under the Khmer Rouge.
The use of color was symbolic, Scarborough said.
“Consciously it’s Khmer Rouge—red communist,” he said. “You’ve got an actual piece of string that binds the mother to the child. On one hand, it could be the umbilical cord that’s about to be torn, but it can also symbolize the web of all this strange peculiar cultural things that happened in Cambodia at that time.”
The artist’s widow, You Mouy, said You Khin’s artwork was meant to convey messages, “not just a piece of decoration.
Art, she said, “can change feelings, thoughts, concepts in the world, and that is why communist countries are afraid of artists, so they threaten artists.”
“He had a social conscience,” Scarborough said. “That’s what makes his pictures so significant.”
You Khin’s paintings are part of a larger exhibition of art from Southeast Asia called “I Have the Right,” which will be on display at CSU Dominguez Hills through September.