On February 28, 2023, Cambodian dancer Sophiline Cheam Shapiro went to the Famous New York Met Museum and performed a prayer to the looted Cambodian Antiquities. Sophiline Cheam Shapiro immigrated to the States from Cambodia in the 1990s. It was during this time that she first interacted with a Khmer item not in Cambodia. In Cambodia, people believe that spirits can inhabit objects. They say that these spirits can be found in religious statues and nature. Sophiline Cheam Shapiro practices a classical Cambodian dance, recognized as an Intangible treasure of humanity in 2008. The dance was born as a form of a ritual prayer originating from chenla and funan kingdoms where kings would use it to communicate with the heavens to ask for rain. In other words, the dance is sacred. In 1975-1979 when the Pol Pot’s genocide occured 90% of the dance practioners perished and the dance was forbidden.
Sophiline Cheam Shapiro is a member of the first generation to study and perform the classical dance. She routinely goes to museums around the world that house Khmer Antiquities and prays to the gods and ancestors that inhabit them. When her son was at the University he was writing his thesis paper on the value of returning objects such as looted Khmer antiquities as a form of soft diplomacy, it was for this reason that Sophiline Cheam Shapiro became aware of the elaborate network of thieves and unscrupulous art dealers and the complicity of many museums such as the Met museum in this trade.
In February Producers of a podcast wanted to examine the connection between The Met and Latchford and invited Sophiline Cheam Shapiro to participate in the panel discussion. She was asked if she would be interested in dancing before the looted antiquities on display at the Met so that the video could be shared during the panel. Which she had already done ten years prior. On February 28, she entered the Met accompanied by Actress Ellen Wong, Archeologist Meas Sopheap and members of the Dynamite Doug podcast to record her dance. She removed her shoes as custom and Approached the statue of the god Harihara and she prayed for his safe return to the homeland of cambodia. Two minutes into the dance, a member of the museum’s security team approached her and told her that she was not allowed to dance without permission. She was told to put her shoes back on and the team was told they were not allowed to be there. The event surprised her because she felt that she had a legal right to be there given the Met Museum is a public place. She didn’t think it was fair for the Met to define how Cambodians interact with these artifacts.She also invites people to go visit the many museums in Cambodia that teach about the cultural heritage and so that people can experience these artifacts in the proper context without interruption.