Los Angeles is a city dotted with donut shops, many of them mom-and-pop operations run by immigrants from Cambodia and tucked away in strip malls across Southern California.
Right now, artist Phung Huynh is standing in Donut Star, in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Highland Park. It's is an unpretentious oasis of cheap coffee, lottery tickets and a staggering array of freshly baked donuts.
Huynh has stopped here for a sugery pick-me-up—and some artistic inspiration. Her solo show, entitled Donut (W)hole, recently opened at Self Help Graphics and Art. It's a homage to the Cambodian immigrants known as "Khmericans" who survived the aftermath of warfare and genocide.
"The exhibition is also a celebration of the Cambodian stories told through the lens of 1st and 2nd generation Khmericans who grew up in their family's donut shop," the artist writes in the exhibition notes.
Huynh, a bubbly 44-year-old with black bangs sweeping across her face, created these portraits first by drawing her subjects in a style reminiscent of Pop Art, then silkscreening them, along with vintage family photographs, onto the pink cardboard donut boxes that have become emblematic of donut shops run by Cambodian-Americans. "These donut shops represent a cultural space where refugees and immigrants reshape their lives in the process of negotiating, assimilating and becoming American," Huynh writes.
Although Huynh was trained as an illustrator, and most of her work emphasizes her skill in painting and drawing, the donut box series reflects an evolution in her use of photographs, which draws on family history and traditions that range from deeply spiritual to traumatic.