Young Santa Rosa artists learn family history while painting

  • (From left)Cambodian-American teens Vichaka Meas, 18, her sister Matilda Meas, 16, and Amy Kouch, 15, speak to a crowd before the unveiling a mural that they painted painted at ArtStart in Santa Rosa, California on Sunday, November 18, 2012. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Through a summer art apprenticeship, three young Sonoma County women learned about the suffering of their families in the Killing Fields of Cambodia more than three decades ago.

On Sunday, the young women unveiled a mural they painted to honor their families and the others who endured the genocide practiced by the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s. The artwork was applauded by more than 80 people who gathered at a youth arts organization in Santa Rosa.

The mural will be sent to the Vista Family Health Center, 3569 Round Barn Circle, where it will be displayed for a year.

"We learned how dark it was," said Vichaka Meas, 18, a Santa Rosa Junior College student and one of the artists. Before the project, she knew little about the genocide that took the lives of nearly 2 million Cambodians.

Her sister, Matilda Meas, 16, a Santa Rosa High School student, said their parents talked about brothers and sisters they lost in the suffering and killing.

"We actually got to hear about the family we never had," she said.

But the three emphasized that they wanted their art to convey not only the darkness of that tragedy but also the resiliency of those who survived.

"They didn't give up," said Amy Kouch, 15, a Rancho Cotate High School student. "They did it for this generation."

Last summer, the three worked with a team of artists at ArtStart, a nonprofit group that mentors young artists and provides paid apprenticeships. ArtStart raised nearly $3,800 for the project on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo.com.

Chandra Woodworth, ArtStart's creative director, called the mural remarkable, saying it was the first by the three teenagers and took them about eight weeks to create.

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