The contentious dispute over the residents displaced from Phnom Penh’s lakeside district has been captured in a photography exhibition now on display at Meta House.
French photographer Jean-Francois Perigois, a resident of Cambodia for the past five years, has spent the past 18 months compiling the works, in the process repeatedly raising the ire of police officers stationed to keep the Boeung Kak development site away from prying eyes.
Attempts by authorities to prevent documentation of the dramatic changes in the neighbourhood’s landscape are what Perigois has sought to remedy with his latest collection, Boeung Kak Was A Lake.
“Of course, it’s a controversial issue,” he says. “But I’m a witness. I’m just providing a picture, and hopefully discussion comes from there. People should be able to talk, to explain and to say why this is happening.”
The elegantly framed exhibition highlights the dichotomy between Boeung Kak’s lingering residents and the machinery of development that has drained the lake and flattened surrounding buildings.
In Watchers, two moto drivers with their backs to the lens gaze out from an overpass into the barren gulf of what was once a thriving community, while Death by the Mud depicts a lone man staring balefully into the distance while perched on a drainage pipe being used to clear the lake’s water.
In 2007, Shukaku Inc, a development consortium with ties to the Cambodian People’s Party, was granted a 99-year lease for land around the Boeung Kak area.
More than 4,000 residents have been moved from the site as a result of subsequent development works.
The issue of the remaining families flared up again late last month, with the arrest of 13 Boeung Kak women who were supporting a family trying to build a new home on land they were evicted from two years earlier.
Before their trial, monk and rights activist Loun Savath was briefly detained for leading a protest rally against the arrests.
For the photographer, the story of Boeung Kak epitomises the fraught and uncertain path of Cambodia’s recent economic development.
“It’s so sad to see the destruction of an area that should be a public space,” Perigois says. “The country has evolved a great deal in the past 10 years, but sometimes in the wrong way.
“Even though it has become less poor in that time, the social distortion between rich and poor has in many respects become larger.”
Boeung Kak Was A Lake will be on display at Meta House until Sunday, June 24.