First Thursday: Naga Sheds Its Skin

Last Thursday was First Thursday in Seattle. Every month many of the city's museums open their doors to the public for free or reduced admission and often longer hours. This month, the Wing Luke coordinated a new exhibit opening with First Thursday. "We are the Ocean" is a short run display, featuring indigenous responses to climate change. Part art installation, part oral history lesson, this exhibit engages the visitor on many different levels. 

There was one other exhibit I was desperate to see before it closes this week. Living in Oregon prevented me from seeing it all year, so I'm doubly glad for my recent move. Naga Sheds Its Skin tells the story of Khmer Americans, their history and their present cultural identity within the United States. The history of Cambodia is featured in one of the permanent Community Portrait Galleries. This exhibition focuses more on the experience of Khmer Americans upon their arrival in the U.S. 

The Community Advisory Committee (CAC) for this exhibition wanted, more than anything, to show that Khmer and Khmer Americans are so much more than the Killing Fields.
— Wing Luke Website
In a Cambodian legend, the naga were a reptilian race of beings, who were chased away and sought refuge in India. The naga King’s daughter married an Indian Brahmana. As a dowry, Kaliya, the King, drank up the water that covered the country and exposed the land for his daughter and son-in-law to inhabit and thus Cambodia was created. From that legend, the Khmer people say they are “born from the naga”.
— Wing Luke Website

Visitors follow the long winding body of the multi-headed snake as they experience stories from throughout the history of Cambodia. We didn't realize this at the beginning of our visit and actually experienced the gallery in reverse, but it didn't impede our understanding at all.

The Wing Luke produced a helpful timeline for visitors who are not familiar with the history of Cambodia. 

While the gallery was sparsely filled with objects, it highlighted excellent bilingual text panels and lots of audio/visual material. This is something I feel the Wing Luke does well consistently. They strive to tell the stories of people in their own words (and their own voices when able) rather than speaking for them. They create spaces for reflection and opportunities to add your own thoughts to the overarching topic.

This exhibit was beautifully and thoughtfully made, with an eye to the visitor experience. Another great job by the Wing Luke and their community partners!

This exhibit closes November 13th, so check it out now! Wing Luke Website