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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - JR's display raises eyebrows

JR's display raises eyebrows

081210_18.jpg
081210_18.jpg

The idea behind the unusual exhibition was to give Cambodians the chance to confront photography, but the display has raised more questions than answers

Photo by: CHRISTOPHER SHAY

A woman walks past JR's 200-metre-long photo display along the walls of the French embassy in Phnom Penh.

FOR the past two weeks, an accomplished Parisian photographer who goes by the initials JR has displayed a 200-metre-long photo exhibition along the exterior walls of the French embassy.

The huge exhibit consists of 20 giant sets of women's eyes that stare intensely across the road in front of the embassy.

JR told the Post as the exhibit went up that he wanted to encourage Cambodians to confront photography and think about the meaning of his installation.

"You can read it in many different ways. Instead of looking at them, they are looking at you. You are giving them a face," he said.

"If you want to know who are behind the photos, you look into it, and you realise they're just normal people. You make up their stories," he added.

Not surprisingly, different people have had varied reactions to his exhibitions.

On similar exhibits in Liberia and Sierra Leone, JR said proudly: "Everybody stopped in the street. It was nonpolitical, and people had to interpret it.... Of course, people will read it in different ways. Some people will see hope, while others will find nothing."

If they posted

photos of angkor wat...or of other countries, we would understand.

Outside the French embassy on Monday, Cambodians said that, although they had thought about the photos, they were still unclear as to what they meant. Clearly JR's art had raised more questions than answers.

Mixed reactions

Chhum Sokkhoun, 29, wondered if the photos could be of people from an older generation, while others, like Sok Sitha, a 26-year-old moto driver, found it difficult to interpret photos radically different to the ones he is used to seeing.

"If they posted photos of Angkor Wat, Wat Phnom or of other countries, we would understand, but I cannot understand these pictures."

Moto driver Eng Thy, 45, had heard different ideas about the meaning of women's eyes.

"Even though the embassy guard explained to me that the photos represent people from every country, I still think about what they could mean. I wonder if the picture posted at the end of the wall is a Khmer," he said.

Criticism of the very public exhibition also came from the youngest of viewers. Sok Sitha said that he had driven a two-year-old and his mother past the wall of eyes, which had made the toddler cry and tremble with fear. "He told his mother that the pictures were giants," Sok Sitha said.

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