Michelle Sou in a screen-printed portrait on a donut box by artist Phung Huynh.

Graphics and self-help art


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Graphics and self-help art


Michelle Sou in a screen-printed portrait on a donut box by artist Phung Huynh.

Graphics and self-help art

Los Angeles is a city dotted with donut shops, many of which are family-owned operations run by immigrants from Cambodia and tucked away in Southern California strip malls.

Currently, artist Phung Huynh is held at Donut Star in the Highland Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. It’s an unassuming oasis of cheap coffee, lottery tickets and a staggering array of freshly baked donuts.

Huynh stopped here for a surgical makeover – and artistic inspiration. His personal exhibition, titled Donut Hole (W), recently opened at Self-help graphics and art. It is a tribute to Cambodian immigrants known as “Khmericans” who survived the aftermath of war and genocide.

“The exhibition is also a celebration of Cambodian stories told through the lens of 1st and 2nd generation Khmerians who grew up in their family’s donut shop,” writes the artist in the notes to the exposure.

Rapper Andrew Hean, whose family owned a donut shop in California, is depicted in a screen print on a box of donuts by artist Phung Huynh.

Graphics and self-help art


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Rapper Andrew Hean, whose family owned a donut shop in California, is depicted in a screen print on a box of donuts by artist Phung Huynh.

Graphics and self-help art

Huynh, a bubbly 44-year-old with black bangs on her face, created these portraits by first drawing her subjects in a style reminiscent of Pop Art, then screen-printing them, along with vintage family photographs, on 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 negotiation, assimilation, and becoming American,” Huynh writes.

Artist Phung Huynh with his parents during a family trip to Cambodia.

Phung Huynh


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Phung Huynh


Artist Phung Huynh with his parents during a family trip to Cambodia.

Phung Huynh

Although Huynh was trained as an illustrator and most of her work emphasizes her painting and drawing skills, the donut box series reflects an evolution in her use of photographs, which draws inspiration from of family history and traditions that range from deeply spiritual to traumatic.

“I have a very complicated relationship with photographs and portraits because when we left, we couldn’t bring photos with us,” she explains, showing framed copies of resettlement photos taken of her father, her mother, grandparents and siblings in a Vietnamese. Refugees camp. “And we use photographs to venerate our ancestors.”

Artist Phung Huynh

Noé Montes/Phung Huynh


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Noé Montes/Phung Huynh

Huynh’s family didn’t run donut shops when she was growing up, although her brother currently owns one in Houston. Her parents worked in a garment factory when they arrived in Los Angeles in 1981.

“And they didn’t speak English,” Huynh recalls. But, she says, they became close with a woman at the factory whom she now considers a grandmother. “My abuelita, Nellie Pavone, was a production manager, and she stood up for my parents and helped them. My mother called her ‘mom’. It’s our Mexican grandmother, and she would call us her Chinese grandchildren, you know.”

Pavone noticed Huynh’s artistic talent as a child and encouraged her parents to allow her to attend art school, Huynh says. Now Huynh is an Associate Professor of Art at Los Angeles Valley College and Artist-in-Residence at Los Angeles County Office of Immigration Affairs. She is especially proud of how her work has been displayed at many civic sites throughout the city, from the Los Angeles Zoo to the USC Los Angeles County Medical Center.

Ratana Kim in a screen-printed portrait on a pink donut box by artist Phung Huynh.

Graphics and self-help art


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Ratana Kim in a screen-printed portrait on a pink donut box by artist Phung Huynh.

Graphics and self-help art

Phung Huynh’s parents eventually started their own business with the support of their community, and the artist wishes to celebrate their resilience, bravery and entrepreneurial spirit. Yet she’s not interested in perpetuating a glossy, mythologized version of the American dream.

“There’s a lot of struggle and pain,” she says of the Khmer immigrants who built their small businesses. “I think for a lot of survivors, especially of the Khmer Rouge genocide, there’s a lot of guilt. There’s a lot of guilt that they were able to come to the United States and leave their families behind. there are a lot of families at home who couldn’t come.”

Meanwhile, children who grew up in these donut shops — because there was no money for after-school daycare — were taunted and harassed by their peers, Huynh says. Recently, a donut family she knows was threatened in their own store by white supremacists.

“When generational trauma isn’t even a generation away from experiencing what our brothers and sisters in Ukraine and Afghanistan are going through right now,” she says, “That’s what I’m interested in exploring. But donuts matter. Even fleeting pleasure – that’s fine. That’s what trauma teaches you. For example, pleasure and joy are fundamental.

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