Showcasing Khmers in the Creative Arts Industry.

Recognizing Inspiring Organizations and Aspiring Individuals.

Joe Bun Keo – Emerging Contemporary Artist

Joe Bun Keo

My name is Joe Bun Keo. I was born in 1987. I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts, with a concentration in Sculpture and minor in Art History, from the Hartford Art School at the University of Hartford in West Hartford, CT in 2009.

Are you 100% Cambodian

Joe: Yes, I am 100 % Cambodian. The interesting factor is that I cannot read or write Khmer, but I do understand it somewhat and am able to carry simple basic conversations. My parents were refugees during the Khmer Rouge. They fled and lived in Thailand in the refugee camps for some time before traveling to The Philippines and then finally settling in America. My parents and their families knew both Khmer and Thai fluently because they grew up near the border. When they immigrated to America they had me and decided to teach me Thai because they felt they didn’t want to teach me the language of a culture that was going through horrific civil unrest. So throughout my life, I’ve always had to explain this to people. I am not really American, Thai or Khmer. I have no true solidified cultural identity; I guess I’m 100 % me.

Where do you reside?

Joe: I currently reside in Bristol, but in the process of moving to Hartford.

What type of artist would you categorize yourself as?

Joe: If anything, I consider myself a “contemporary” “Conceptual” artist, but all art is “conceptual” whether it’s traditional or non-traditional, everything starts off as a concept. I love the idea of gray areas, so I try my best to avoid categorization. Nothing is truly black and white or right and wrong, there’s always middle ground. That’s where I am.

When did you first become interested in art?

Joe: I credit my maternal uncles. My Uncles, Chhlat Bun and Michael Chhlob Bun, were academically trained landscape painters and my other Uncle, Slai Chhaylay Bun, was a street artist that specialized in tagging and calligraphy. Growing up I would often visit with my mother’s family in Providence, Rhode Island. Everyone lived in a small apartment and all my uncles shared one room and in this room was an easel that always held an oil painting in progress and on the walls were tacked and taped stylized images of urban life and ornate calligraphy. I was hooked every since.

What inspires you?

Joe: Everyone and everything around me. I appreciate and embrace the nuances and quirks of the everyday. We live in a fast paced world. You see people with their flashing Bluetooth earpieces, looking like they are talking to themselves, while they have a Starbucks coffee in the other hand, speed walking to meet a deadline. What ever happened to ever brewing your own coffee and sitting down to a newspaper and writing a letter? I take what people take for granted and present them in a new light and a new context, with the goal of giving it a new life and a second chance for interpretation and appreciation.

One of your pieces that you produced in 2009 titled “Kampuchea, Siam, and America” you stated that you struggle with cultural identity. Do you still have struggle with this issue?

Joe: Still struggling, but I’m content with struggling. Only struggle builds character. Those with everything handed to them on a silver platter or spoon-fed stay stagnant and static and they stop learning. If you hit brick walls and fall into ruts and get stuck between rocks and hard places, there’s more potential for personal growth. I’m still growing.

What is your favorite Khmer dish?

Joe: I love kadew (pho or rice noodle soup) with tofu. I also enjoy papaya salad, minus the fermented fish paste, but add extra extra spicy small chilli peppers. Bahbaw (rice porridge) with pork blood is also a delicious dish.

What are your future goals in Art?

Joe: I plan to pursue graduate studies to obtain my MFA (Masters of Fine Art). I want to show more in galleries and museums. I would love to work for a gallery or museum. What I really would love is to become an internationally renowned contemporary artist, but for now I just want to be able to have the energy, spirit, and motivation to continue making art.

Are you working on any new projects? If so, what would it en-tale?

Joe: Since graduating art school I’ve had a couple of solo shows and have been involved in many group shows. I’ ve also have been working alongside with my artist friend Ashleigh Kay (, creating art events under the name Hammered and Nailed NLUV (Now Let Us Vindicate). Together, Ashleigh and I, organize and host large scale events that include art exhibitions, musical performances, performance art, potlucks, and any other form of creative expression. We search for venues and willing artists to participate and we solicit sponsors to help with event costs with hopes that with enough support, we can accomplish our goal of create a free, no admission, donation welcomed, fun and positive creative event open to the masses.

Future projects include furthering these endeavors and also venturing out to new locales to exhibit my individual work and also find new and exciting opportunities in the art world.

[email protected]

Joe Bun Keo

Joe Bun Keo

Joe Bun Keo

Joe Bun Keo

Originally Posted by Sophia S.

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