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"Land Shrine" by Kim Sweeney

This painting was inspired by the first time I went to Cambodia in 2019, visiting my great grandparent’s graves.

Traditional Khmer shrine with bowls of rice, plates of fruits, other various foods and drinks, candles, and incense.

Land Shrine

Oil on Canvas

By Kim Sweeney

SEA Change Lab Changemaker

Winter 2022

This painting was inspired by the first time I went to Cambodia in 2019, visiting my great grandparent’s graves. With the help of extended family and friends, we made shrines for my ancestors. Depicted is a traditional shrine made to the spirits of the Khmer land on which this Teochew Cemetery resides.

This image is four years in development. Though I knew I would paint this scene one day, it took four years to collect myself and return to the work. The years 2020 to 2023 offered me successes, challenges, graces, mournings and transformations. In this time I’ve reclaimed identifying as an artist, and successively loosened my grasp on toxic expectations related to professional creative productivity.

Held in the SEAD’s artistic community, I’ve found strength to revisit the emotions of the 2019 trip and this work a year after creating the initial sketch. Thirteen months of marinating ended in a marathon painting session over a drizzly weekend.

Within are layers of opaque and transparent rust brown stains. Films of blood, our blood and bodies that can be felt in this ground, our humble family. I feel them on the dew of my skin. I offer them what I can, love and gratitude.

Official Artist Statement

Drawn from intergenerational memory, personal experience, and imagination, my oil and gouache vignettes trace my personal journey of becoming as I navigate my identity as biracial second-generation Cambodian-American. By unpacking the cultural motifs of my upbringing and making sense of them in the context of America today, I offer images of joy, of connection, of interesting and dynamic representations of SEA diasporic culture. I make these artworks to honor these moments, these banal experiences—like bumping into someone in a bubble tea shop and dropping your whole tray of drinks on the floor—into something extraordinary. If something that you see in your everyday life is represented in an extraordinary way, maybe you will feel that your boring life is extraordinary too. My work strides to create these seeing-and-being-seen experiences for the Southeast Asian Diaspora as a means towards self-love. This care for my community is the root of my dedication to contribute to a broader understanding of SEA culture in contemporary art.

About Kim

Kim Sweeney is a self-taught visual artist born and raised in San Diego. Working from intergenerational memory, communal and personal experiences, her vignettes evoke sentimentality as a means to healing, pride, and self-love in the Southeast Asian American Diaspora. In stride with her studio work, Kim is an art historian and cultural worker who is committed to developing decolonial approaches to understanding contemporary art.


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