The city of Phnom Penh, Cambodia hosts public dance lessons most nights on a newly revitalized riverfront directly in front of prime minister Hun Sen’s urban home. Shortly before dusk, much of the city gathers to bust a few Apsara moves and learn a couple choreographed hip- hop steps from a slew of attractive young men at the head of each group. Outside the bustling capital city, the provinces come alive, too, as the nation’s only all-girl political rock group sets up concerts that call into question the international garment trade, traditional gender roles, and agriculture under globalization. Cambodia is changing: not what it once was, not yet what it will be. Hip Hop Apsara: Ghosts Past and Present provides images of a nation’s people emerging from generations of poverty.
A series of essays complement the imagery, investigating the relationship between public and private space, mourning and memory, tradition and economic development. It is a document of a nation caught between states of being, yet still deeply affecting.
“Radical” (L.A. Times), “poignant” (Boston Globe), “should not be missed (Time), “a notable underground author” (The Onion), and “brilliant” (Kirkus) are all ways to describe Anne Elizabeth Moore and her writing. The award-winning author and artist has worked for years with young women in Cambodia on independent media projects, and her newest venture is a compilation of photographs and lyrical essays taking readers to the streets of the country’s capital city, Phnom Penh, and out into the countryside— where few get to travel. Hip Hop Apsara: Ghosts Past and Present released Aug. 28, 2012 from Green Lantern Press.
Alternating full color and black and white photographs depict Phnom Penh’s bustling nightlife as locals gather to dance on a newly revitalized riverfront directly in front of their prime minister’s urban home, thus forming a portrait of the nation’s emerging middle class. Images from a southern province depict a nation in dialogue with its government, hoping for development that lifts all citizens. A series of essays complement the imagery, investigating the relationship between public and private space, mourning and memory, tradition and an economic development unrivaled in the last 1,200 years.
“Traditional movements push against young passions,” Moore writes. “Development is fluid and janky. But a generation is learning what comfort feels like, learning what it feels like to have survived. To celebrate, to honor, they dance most nights like they are possessed.”
Hip Hop Apsara aims to break through the cavalier and hardened consciousness many hold about Cambodian culture and its recent, violent, past under the Khmer Rouge.
“People seem rooted in this belief that Cambodia’s very far away and very weird,” Moore said. “It is far away, but for 14 million Cambodians, it’s not weird at all – plus it’s a place the US has had a lot of negative influence over. So it seems like we should know something about it, as Americans.”
A Fulbright scholar, Moore is the Truthout columnist behind Ladydrawers: Gender and Comics in the US, and the author of Cambodian Grrrl: Self-Publishing in Phnom Penh (Cantankerous Titles, 2011), Unmarketable: Brandalism, Copyfighting, Mocketing, and the Erosion of Integrity (The New Press, 2007) and Hey Kidz, Buy This Book (Soft Skull, 2004). She was co-editor and publisher of the now-defunct Punk Planet, and founding editor of the Best American Comics series from Houghton Mifflin. She has twice been noted in the Best American Non-Required Reading series.