You are here

Boreth Ly (លី បុរ៉េត)


Associate Professor (សាស្ត្រាចារ្យរង), History of Art (ប្រវត្តិ​សិល្បៈ) and Visual Culture (វប្បធម៌​ទស្សនីយភាព)
Visual Cultures of Southeast Asia and Its Diaspora
Visual cultures of Southeast Asia (including diasporas and Southeast Asian American): theory of historical trauma, memory, (Post) colonial, and Cultural Studies. Issues of gender, sexuality, race, nation, critical pleasure, healing and the body.
Office: (831) 459-2055 (Note: I don't check my office phone voicemail often. If you want to contact me, please email me at Thank you)
Research Interests: 

Boreth Ly is an art historian who writes about the visual cultures of Southeast Asia (including its diaspora and Southeast Asian America). In addition, she is an interdisciplinary scholar, an essayist and a critical pleasure seeker who always find pleasure in her work and in her life.


She asks herself: Do you work to live or live to work?


She approaches the study of the material culture of pre-modern Southeast Asia from an interregional perspective, considering it through a comparative lens. More important, she 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). She takes a multidisciplinary approach to studying and writing about visual culture of this region and its diaspora. Her 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 her writing on art, trauma, and memory, she 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
  • Socially Engaged Buddhism and visual culture of Asia and beyond
  • 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
  • Local and postcolonial theory of arts and culture of Southeast Asia
  • Theory of decoloniziation of arts and culture in Southeast Asia (Asia at large)
  • Textiles, fashion, nationalism and the body
  • Representations of race and ethnicity in Southeast Asia and its diaspora
  • Post Disciplinary and Post Area Studies
  • Critial Pleasure studies, healing and the body
  • Islamic Art and visual cutlures of Southeast Asia

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

Office Location: Porter College, Room D232
Offfice Hours: Wednesdays 3:00-5:00 pm (Zoom) (Spring 2024)
Mailing Address: 

University of California

1156 High Street Porter Faculty Services

Santa Cruz, CA 95064

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).


Boreth Ly, Traces of Trauma: Cambodian Visual Culture and National Idenity in the Aftermath of Genocide, (Honolulu, HI: University of Hawai'i Press, 2020).

Note: Review in L'autre:

"Traces of Trauma: Interview With Boreth Ly":

"Interview with Boreth Ly on Her New Book, Traces of  Trauma":

"Going Backward to Move Forward: Karen Tei Yamashita in conversation with Boreth Ly on Traces of Trauma" in Art Journal Open:

Review of Traces of Trauma by Jeseph Mai:


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

"The Politics of the Pot: Contemporary Cambodian Women Artists Negotiating Their Roles In and Out of the Kitchen" in Suvannabhumi, vol. 12, no. 1 (January 2020): 49-88:

"Of Scent and Sensibility: Embodied Ways of Seeing in Southeast Asian Cultures" in Suvannabhumi, vol. 10, no. 1 (June 2018): 63-91

(Note: This article won "The Greatest Download Record" published in The Suvannabhumi Journal, Busan University of Foreign Studies, South Korea. Boreth Ly received the award on May 24th, 2019 at the Busan University of Foreign Studies.)

“Se remémorer le 17 avril 1975: à la recherche des images manquantes” in Patrick Nardin, Suppya Helene Nut et Soko Phay, eds., Cambodge: cartographie de la memoire (Paris: Asiatheque, 2017): 167-180.

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):

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. In addition, he is interested in decolonizing approaches to Southeast Asian art history and visual culture. To this end, he is particulartly interested in relooking at the important role Islam and trade routes and networks in Southeast Asia and rethinking the idea of "Asia" its cultural space. 

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