In 1985-1986, as an undergraduate exchange student in Paris, Ashley Thompson attended the seminar of Hélène Cixous, as well as the Théâtre du Soleil’s staging of Cixous’s Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia. These experiences set her on a path leading to a life of work in and on Cambodia.
After obtaining a B.A. in History and Literature from Harvard University (1988) she worked for two years in an an education programme directed by Father Pierre Ceyrac in Site 2 Cambodian refugee camp on the Thai-Cambodian border. She obtained a Beginning Certificate in Khmer Language at the Southeast Asian Studies Summer Institute (SEASSI, University of Hawai’i) in 1988, and an Advanced certificate in Thai language from SEASSI, Cornell University, in 1990, where she was awarded the Usha Mahajani Prize in Southeast Asian Studies. She pursued graduate studies in Paris, obtaining a Diplôme supérieur in Khmer at the Institut national des langues et civilisations orientales (1991), an M.A. in Indian Studies at the University of Paris 3 (1993), and a PhD in Women’s Studies under the direction of Hélène Cixous at the University of Paris 8 (1999). Her PhD dissertation, entitled Mémoires du Cambodge, explored Cambodian ways and means of memory in post-Angkorian period religious works.
Her first research in Cambodia, from 1994-1997, was supported by the Social Sciences Research Council, N.Y. During this period, and again from 1999-2001, she taught Khmer Civilisation, in Khmer, at the Department of Archaeology of the Royal University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, and served as an Advisor to Vann Molyvann, the Cambodian State Minister of Culture, Urban Planning and Territorial Management. In this last capacity, she worked to found the research branch of the nascent national organ for the management of Angkor. Work in Cambodia was supported by UNESCO.
From 2001-2004 she was an Assistant Professor in the Department of South and Southeast Asian Studies of the University of California, Berkeley. She has been a Associate Professor in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies at the University of Leeds since 2005. She has also taught as Visiting Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies of the University of Paris 8.
She is a specialist of Cambodian arts and literatures. Her main research and teaching interests involve questions of memory and cultural transition. Her work explores avenues for comparison of “Eastern” and “Western” traditions.
Publications include :
- Angkor. A Manual for the Past, Present and Future (with Ang Chouléan and Eric Prenowitz), UNESCO/APSARA, 1995.
- La Danse au Cambodge (with Toni Shapiro-Phim), Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Calling the Souls. A Khmer Ritual Text, Reyum, 2005.
- Terrible but Unfinished: Hélène Cixous’ Stories of History’, New Literary History, Winter 2006.
- Forgetting to Remember, Again: on Contemporary Cambodian Art, diacritics, 2013.
- Cambodia’s Trials : Theatre, Justice and History Unfinished in Contemporary Southeast Asian Performance, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (with Eric Prenowitz.), 2010.
Staging the Cixous play in Cambodia had long been one of her dreams. When artists she had known as children in Site 2 came as adults to teach and manage Phare Ponleu Selpak Arts School in Battambang, she glimpsed the possibility of realising this dream. When, in 2007, Ariane Mnouchkine took up her proposition to lead the adventure, the dream began to come true.
Introduction par Ashley Thompson de la journée d’étude Histoire et Théâtre : Autour de “Sihanouk”
Colloque Intro A.Thompson
Introduction text by Ashley Thompson (french document).
Other researchers who worked on the project :
After a year’s internship in Jerry Lettvin’s lab at MIT, Eric Prenowitz did his BA in physics at Harvard. He then trained and worked as an engineer on fishing vessels from New Bedford to Kodiak before undertaking graduate studies in Paris under the direction of Hélène Cixous.
Eric Prenowitz has practical experience of the moral, cultural, technological complexities of international aid and development work in postcolonial settings. He is interested in radical performativities: writing (broadly speaking) that won’t keep still, and the unstable borders between theory or philosophy, thinking, and its others (art, literature, ‘life’…). He has published widely on (and translated) the work of Cixous and Jacques Derrida.
Comparative literature and literary theory, continental philosophy and deconstruction, gender theory, psychoanalysis, translation studies – with an accent on textuality or what used to be called ‘the work of the signifier’. Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida are his main research topics.
Toni Shapiro-Phim is a cultural anthropologist with specializations in the performing arts, migration, social justice, and Southeast Asia. She received her Ph.D. from Cornell University, writing about the relationship between war, dance and music in Cambodia, and has held research and teaching positions focused on arts and social justice at the University of California, Berkeley, Yale University and, currently, at Bryn Mawr College. Co-editor of Dance, Human Rights and
Social Justice: Dignity in Motion (2008), her writing has also appeared in Annihilating Difference: the Anthropology of Genocide (2002), the Oxford Encyclopedia of Theatre and Performance (2001), and other books, magazines and journals, including Dancing at the Crossroads (forthcoming), about dance and conflict resolution. Between 2008 and 2010 she oversaw the creation of a dance archive at the Khmer Arts Theatre in Cambodia. She is Program Specialist at the Philadelphia Folklore Project where she conducts research about urban expressive culture, curates exhibitions and coordinates arts and social change initiatives.
Presentation of the project by Ashley Thompson.
“Transformation in Cultural Heritages : The Terrible but Unfinished Story of Norodom Sihanouk, King of Cambodia”
Direction: Lucy Jolly ⓒ Center for Critical Studies in Museums, Galleries and Héritage-University of Leeds, 2013.