I was first introduced to Cambodia when it was still known as Kampuchea. As part of my International Relations class in high school, I had to devise an international crisis-type of scenario and the rest of the students had to debate how the United States government should get involved. I chose to focus on Cambodia, in particular Pol Pot, his reign of terror, and the aftermath. I don’t remember the specifics of my scenario, but whatever it was, I had the class stumped. More importantly, my eyes were awakened to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge and the millions of people that suffered under them.
When I decided to travel to SE Asia in 2001, I knew that Cambodia had to be on the itinerary. Most people who travel to Cambodia do so to visit the vast complex and amazing temples of Angkor, and that too was on my to-do-list. But people who pass over visiting Phnom Penh, the Killing Fields, and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, are doing a disservice to themselves and the lives that were lost.
Of course, Angkor Wat and the various other temples in the heart of the country are miraculous to see in person. The complex was begun in the 12th Century as a Hindu temple and later converted to Theravada Buddhism. Most people recognize the main temple, Angkor Wat, but there is believed to be over a thousand temples in the area. You can easily spend weeks exploring all that the complex has to offer. And like most temples that have been deteriorating over time and lie in ruins, your imagination is put to the test.
For my Cambodia Mandala, I wanted to evoke the sadness that the horrors of the Killing Fields brought on, yet celebrate the rich history of Angkor. I feel the contrast of the two emotions is represented in the cold grays of the stonework and the brightness of the Buddhist robes. And I think that because of this dichotomy, this has always been one of my favorite mandalas. But I know it is not for everyone. Maybe it makes other people uneasy without them realizing it, and if that is the case, then I think it is successful.