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The Mekong

Tonight’s film screening of Sleepwalking Through the Mekong, a film documenting Los Angeles-based band Dengue Fever’s experience traveling through Cambodia, kicks off Asian Art Revolution, a weekend of art, film and music at the Freer and Sackler Galleries.

The weekend events are meant to target “a young professional audience, [showcasing] things Asian Americans are doing,” says museum public affairs specialist Amanda Williams.

Dengue Fever, an eclectic six-member band, blends traditional Khmer music from the 1960s with pop music from the West–the band calls the result Khmer rock. The idea for a documentary began when lead singer and sole Cambodian band member Chhom Nimol mentioned she was taking a trip back to her homeland.

“We were doing a show in LA [in 2004 or 2005], and there was a power outage, and we were talking about some [tour] dates with our lead singer. She [said] she had to go to Cambodia,” says guitarist and vocalist Zac Holtzman. The band immediately decided to join her.

The documentary chronicles the band’s tour through the country, and their performances with local musicians. They wanted to film “peoples’ reaction to Westerners going back, and how they felt. I [also] didn’t realize how ingrained all the songs were to everybody,” Holtzman says. “It documented a golden era before the Khmer Rouge came in and turned the world upside down.”

Local DJs Yellow Fever kicked off last night’s Asian Pop Rock, a preview of the weekend festivities. Why the name? “Because we’re Asian,” says Nick Pimentel, half of the duo and an owner of the Room 11 wine bar in Columbia Heights. Pimentel and Brian Liu came up with the name before their first DJ gig St. Ex.

Attendees last night were also offered a sneak preview of Fiona Tan’s Rise and Fall exhibit, opening to the public on Saturday. The photography and video exhibit at the Sackler Gallery offers an intimate view into the Indonesian-born artist’s world, seeking to answer the fundamental question, “Who am I?”

One portion of the exhibit, Provenance 2008, showcases a six-changed digital installation. Video portraits of intimate figures from Tan’s life–cabaret performer Sanne Wallis de Vries, a Turkish shopkeeper and his son, filmmaker Kees Hin and her own son. The ultimate work provides “a key hole” look into a stranger’s every day life. The exhibit also includes a 60-minute documentary on Tan’s life, titled, May You Live in Interesting Times.

MC Yogi, a San Francisco-based, yoga master and hip-hop artist performs Saturday, and Sunday offers a look into the Gold Age of Cambodian Cinema, a history of Cambodian film from the 1960s and 1970s.

Photo by Fredrik Thommesen. Creative Commons Attribution License.