Music, Letters, Home: An Exhibit Celebrating the Journey of Composer Chinary Ung and Actor Kalean Ung

 Music, Letters, Home: An Exhibit Celebrating the Journey of Composer Chinary Ung and Actor Kalean Ung

How do we imagine home after genocide? How can music and performing arts enable new ways to engage with the haunting of war, genocide, and displacement? For acclaimed composer Chinary Ung and his daughter, Kalean Ung, their connection to Cambodia and each other are explored through letters Chinary received from Cambodia and refugee camps in the 1980s. Carrying reverberations of a trauma-filled history, the letters were tucked away for years after Chinary and his wife, Susan, fought to save their family members. Through the discovery and exploration of these letters, Kalean pushes her father to remember and to help her tell their stories through music and performance. 

Chinary Ung came to New York in 1964 on a music scholarship to study clarinet and went on to receive a fellowship that enabled him to remain in the United States as the Khmer Rouge came to power in his homeland. During the Cambodian Genocide (1975-1979) approximately two million Cambodians perished under the reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge. This included a majority of Chinary Ung’s family. While living in America and working as a composer, he received hundreds of letters from family members, Cambodian refugees, government officials, and non-governmental aid workers. Taking a hiatus from his music career, he spent 10 years trying to get all of his surviving family members out of refugee camps and into America. Through an oral history of Chinary Ung, the letters he collected after the Cambodian Genocide, photographs, and supplemental records from the Southeast Asian Archive, this exhibit tells the story of a Cambodian American experience enriched with music, longing, and love. 


Curated by Thuy Vo Dang and Kalean Ung. Designed by James Dinh. The exhibit will run in the Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center from February 5 - April 1, 2020. For more information, please contact Thuy Vo Dang (

Co-Sponsored by Asian American Studies, Drama, the UCI Libraries, the UCI Shakespeare Center, the Humanities Center, the Center for Asian Studies, East Asian Studies, the Metropolitan Southeast Asia Workgroup, Asian American Pacific Islander Staff Association, and AAPI Womxn in Leadership.

Event Details

  • When: Exhibit Runs February 5 - April 1, Daily
  • Where: Orange County & Southeast Asian Archive Center, UCI
  • Organizer: Thuy Vo Dang (email)
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