Boreth Ly

Boreth Ly

Associate Professor, History of Art (ប្រវត្តិ​សិល្បៈ) and Visual Culture (វប្បធម៌​ទស្សនីយភាព)
Visual Cultures of Southeast Asia (including diasporas and Southeast Asian America)
Visual cultures of Southeast Asia (including diasporas and Southeast Asian American): theory of historical trauma, the politics of cultural translation, (Post) colonial, and Cultural Studies. Issues of gender, sexuality, race, nation and the body.
Office: (831) 459-2055
Research Interests: 

Boreth Ly writes about the visual cultures of Southeast Asia (including its diaspora and Southeast Asian America).

He approaches the study of the material culture of pre-modern Southeast Asia from an interregional perspective, considering it through a comparative lens. More important, he asks how these “ancient” arts and cultures were constructed as part of an academic teleology, always acknowledging when concepts and artistic canons are inventions of the colonial and nationalist periods. Ly’s research investigates the processes of cultural translation and interrogates the construction of historical authority and racial authenticity as it is embedded in colonial writings on Southeast Asian art. The fields of postcolonial, cultural, and visual studies, as well as the discipline of art history thus inform how he theorizes about, writes, and rewrites the threads of Southeast Asian art history and visual culture. 

Ly’s intellectual interests, teachings, and writings have evolved from studying the colonial invention of Southeast Asian canonical art and architecture to an engagement with a broadly defined and expanded consideration of the tangible and intangible objects and subjects under the rubric of visual cultures of colonial, modern and contemporary mainland Southeast Asia (Myanmar, Cambodia, Vietnam, Laos and Thailand). He takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying and writing about visual culture of this region and its diapora. His writing is concerned with how contemporary artists of Southeast Asia and its diaspora create works that deal with the difficult issues of memory, exile, displacement and trauma in the post-Vietnam–American War period. In particular, Ly has been thinking and writing about intersections between trauma, memory, nation and diaspora. In his writing on art, trauma, and memory, he draws from a rich variety of media, including photography, paintings, television, films, and material culture, court dance, and the body. Ly employs different modes and styles of writing in the hope that they lend themselves to capturing the sites/sights and experience of visual traces of trauma.

Professor Ly would consider supervising PhD students who are interested in the following topics (not inclusive) in the visual cultures of Southeast Asia and it diaspora:

  • Ancient art of Southeast Asia
  • Modern and contemporary art of Southeast Asia
  • Visual cultures in Theravada Buddhist traditions
  • Southeast Asian-American art History and visual culture
  • Colonial, modern and contemporary art and visual culture (including film, photography and new media) of Southeast Asia
  • Comparative gender, race and sexuality in Southeast Asia and its diaspora
  • Traditional performing arts, performance art and the body of Southeast Asia and its diaspora
  • Indigenous and postcolonial theory of arts and culture of Southeast Asia
  • Textiles, fashion, nationalism and the body
  • Southeast Asian and Southeast Asian-American literature and visual culture
  • Representations of race and ethnicity in Southeast Asia and its diaspora
  • Post Disciplinary and Post Area Studies
  • Melancholic Beauty and Critical Pleasure Studies

Professor Ly welcomes creative and innovative dissertation projects that falls outside the normative frame. Please write and inquire at

Office Location: Porter College, Room 211
Office Hours: 
Fall 2016: Wednesdays 3:00 pm to 5:00 pm (and by appointment)
Selected Publications: 

Catalogs and Essays in a Catalog

Boreth Ly "Boreth Ly Interview With Leang Seckon, in Erin Gleeson, ed., Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, Contemporary
Art and Urban Change in Cambodia
(Berlin: Institut für Ausländsbeziehungen, 2013): 41-42.

Boreth Ly, Binh Danh: Yosemite (Introduction and Interview with Binh Danh). San Francisco, CA: Haines Gallery, 2012 (catalog).

Boreth Ly, Binh Danh: Life, Times, and Matter of the Swamp (essay and interview). Fort Collins, CO: Hatton Gallery, Colorado State University, 2008 (catalog).

Co-edited Books

Nora A. Taylor and Boreth Ly, eds., Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: An Anthology. Ithaca, New York: SEAP, 2012.

Articles and Book Chapters

Parasites' Paradise: The Erasure of Memory in Dang Nhat Minh's film, The House of Guava" in Penny Edwards, ed., Memory Thickness: Presenting Southeast Asian Pasts, The Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, An Online Journal, no. (Fall 2016):

“Buddhist Walking Meditations and Contemporary Art of Southeast Asia,” in Positions: Asia Critique vol. 20:1 (Winter 2012): 267-285.

"Of Trans(National) Subjects and Translation: The Art and Body Language of Sopheap Pich," in Nora A. Taylor and Boreth Ly, eds., Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art: An Anthology (Ithaca, New York: SEAP, 2012): 117-129.

“Screening the Crisis of Monetary Masculinity in Rithy Panh’s One Night After the War and Burnt Theater” in David C. Lim and Hiroyuki Yamamoto, eds.,  Film in Contemporary Southeast Asia: Cultural Interpretation and Social Intervention (New York: Routledge 2012): 53-72.

 “Broken Threads: The Contested Histories of Brahminism in Cambodia and Thailand and the Construction of Ritual Authority” in Pierre-Yves Manguin, A Mani, and Geoff Wade, eds., Early Interactions Between South and Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Exchange (Singapore, ISEAS Press, 2011): 461-481.

"Protecting the Protector of Phimai" in The Journal of the Walters Art Museum 64/65 (2006/2007, published in July 2009): 35-48.

“Of Performance and the Persistent Temporality of Trauma: Memory, Art and Visions” in Positions: east asia culture critique vol. 16: 1 (Spring 2008): 109-130.

“Vom Ramayana zum Reamker Das Vermächtnis einer Legende” (“Narrating the Reamker in Paintings of Cambodia”) in Helen I. Jessup and Wibke Lobo, eds., Angkor: Göttliches Erbe Kambodschas (Bonn: Kunst-und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, 2006): 243-247.

“Picture-Perfect Pairing: The Politics and Poetics of a Visual Narrative Program at Banteay Srei” in Udaya: Journal of Khmer Studies no. 6 (2005): 151-185.

“The Politics of Drawing from Photographs of the American-Vietnam War” in Catherine De Zegher, ed., Persistent Vestiges: Drawing from the American-Vietnam-War, The Drawing Center, New York (May 2006): 133-165.

“Remembering from a Crossroad: The Archaeology of Photography, Memory, and Vision in the Art of Dinh Q. Lê” in Udaya: Journal of Khmer Studies V (June 2005): 99-114.

“Devastated Vision (s): The Khmer Rouge Scopic Regime in Cambodia” in Art Journal vol. 62: 1 (Spring 2003): 66-81.

“Narrating the Deaths of Drona and Bhurisravas at the Baphuon” in Arts Asiatiques vol. 58 (2003): 134-137.

Critical Reviews of Books and Films

"Tsai Ming-liang, I Don't Want to Sleep Alone" in Pacific Affairs (forthcoming, 2016):

Selected Presentations: 


speaker, “Le 17 Avril 1975, diaspora
et représentation dans l’art contemporain cambodgien”, International
Conference on Image du Cambodge, Avril 10
to 11, 2015
, Archive Nationales, Paris, France.  


Invited panelist and speaker, "Herotopias Interrupted: Buddhist Embodiment in the Age of Digital Media and Global Capital",Religion in the Digital Age: Mediating 'the human' in a Globalizing Asia, New York University (September)

Invited panelist and speaker, “An Evening After Year Zero”, The Asia Society, New York (April)

Invited lecture, “Theravada Buddhist Arts of Mainland Southeast Asia”, The Ho Center For Buddhist Studies at Stanford
University (February). 


Invited Speaker, “Buddha Kappa: Kingship, Politics and Art in Mainland
Southeast Asia”, Buddhist Forum, The Courtauld Institute of Art, London (April)

Invited Speaker, "Seeing Sitas Under and In the Khmer Rouge (Imagi)nations", New Directions in Epic Studies Conference, University of California, Berkeley (October)

Invited Speaker, "Arts and Architecture of Mynamar" The Seattle Asian Art Museum, Seattle, Washington (October)

Invite Speaker, "The Ramayana/Reamker on the Sacred Temples of Angkor: Cambodia and Beyond" The ACT Theater, Seattle, Washington (October)

Invited Speaker, "Buddhakappa: Kingship, Politics and Art in Mainland Southeast Asia" Buddhist Art Forum, Courtauld Institute, London, England (April) 


Invited speaker, “The Legacy of Displacement: Memory, Identity, Homeland, and the Refugee Experience in the Contemporary Arts of Cambodia and Its Diaspora”, Henry Art Gallery. Sponsored by the Henry Art Gallery, Center for Southeast Asian Studies, and The Simpson Center for the Humanities, University of Washington, Seattle (November)

 Invited speaker, “The Poison Cure: Prevailing Tales of the Serpent as an Embodiment of Khmer (Cambodian) Ethnic and National Identity at Home and in the Diasporas”, University of Washington, Seattle (April)


 Invited speaker, “Lives of Angkor Wat”, Seattle Asian Art Museum (November) 

 Invited speaker, “’Still Speed’: Positioning Laos in the Age of Digital Camera and Global Tourism”, Symposium Celebrating the 20th Anniversary of Positions: east asia critique,

Chao Center for Asian Studies, Rice University (October)

 Invited speaker, “Paradigm Shift: Visual Studies and the Transpacific“ (Transpacific: Homelands, Diasporas, and the Movement of Populations Symposium, University of Southern California (April)


 Invited speaker for a symposium, “A Female Prostitute’s Critique on Social Inequality in Cambodia as Portrayed in Rithy Panh’s Film, One Night After the War” Filmic Interventions in Southeast Asia. Center for Integrated Area Studies, Kyoto University, Japan (November)

 Invited speaker, “Contemporary Southeast Asian Artists, Identities, and the Dialectic of Global Capital and National Imaginaries,” Rice University (October)

 Invited speaker, “Embodiment of Power: Re-looking at Political Palladia of Southeast Asia,” Princeton University (April)

 Invited speaker for a series, “Poetic Justice: Engaged Buddhist Perspective on Trauma, Conflict, and Reconciliation in Post-Genocide Cambodia,” University of California, Berkeley (April)

 Invited keynote speaker, “The Dignity and Indignity of Lived Experience: Identify Politics and Paradigm Shift in Asian and Asian-American Art History,” In conjunction with the exhibition, Asian/American/Modern Art: Shifting Currents 1900-1970, De Young Museum, San Francisco (January)


Invited speaker for a conference, “Broken Threads: The Contested Histories of Brahmanism in Cambodia and Thailand and the Construction of Ritual Authority,” Conference on Indian influences in Southeast Asia: Reflections on Cross-Cultural Movement, Institute for Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore (2007)

 Invited speaker for a series, “Of Border and Battle Lines: A Critique of Art Historical Perspectives on Cultural Geography, Race, Identities, and the Politics of Ownership,” University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada (February)

 Invited speaker for a symposium, “Maitreya in Mainland Southeast Asia: Visions and Politics” symposium on Visions and Religions, University of Southern California (February)


Invited speaker for an endowed lecture series, “Water in Hindu Arts and Architecture of Indonesia,” Roy Craven Jr., Memorial Lecture, Samuel Harn Museum, University of Florida, Gainesville (November)

 Invited speaker, “Kbach: An Elaboration on the Evolving Notions of Aesthetics in Cambodian Dance Gestures and Architectural Ornaments” Cornell University (March)

Teaching Interests: 

Boreth Ly teaches a series of thematic courses on the arts of both ancient and contemporary Southeast Asia and its diaspora. Ly’s teaching takes an interdisciplinary approach to his teaching of Asian Art History. He is interested in the intersections between text, ritual, art, aesthetics, ethnography, and religions, especially Hinduism and Buddhism. In addition, his analysis of the “image” and the “object” under consideration in the disciplines of Art History and Visual Studies is informed by theories derived from Cultural, Postcolonial, and Visual Studies, as well as theories of methodology in Art History. Issues addressed in his courses include the cultural constructions of gender, class, the body, race and sexuality.

Honors and Awards: 

Chancellor's Achievement for Diversity Award, University of California, Santa Cruz (2013)

Education and Training: 
B.A., Art History, Bates College, Lewiston, ME
Ph.D., Art History, University of California, Berkeley