Family and friends of artist and Tuol Sleng survivor Vann Nath gathered at his home in Phnom Penh yesterday to pay their respects and lay his soul to rest.
Vann Nath, one of just a handful of people known to have survived the infamous prison, died on Monday at the age of 66. He fell into a coma last week after suffering a cardiac arrest.
Kith Eng, the painter’s widow, said she would remember Vann Nath for the way he treated his family and the suffering he endured.
“He was a really good husband ... In the family, he paid respect to everyone,” she said.
“I really had a deep sympathy for him. Pol Pot arrested him, tortured him and then he had these kinds of diseases until the end of his life. He told me that it was like he had a sin since he was young ... He should not have received this suffering in life.”
Vann Nath’s 21-year-old son, Vann Chanarong, said his father’s efforts to pass on his experience under the Khmer Rouge regime served as a “testimony for the next generation”. “He wanted to show that in Cambodia, there was a real Pol Pot regime, because the next generation – some of them – they don’t believe it,” he said.
Vann Nath survived a year at Tuol Sleng, where perhaps 14,000 people were sent to near-certain death, by painting portraits of Pol Pot. He was freed after the Vietnamese invasion in 1979, and returned to the prison later that year to portray its torturous conditions in his now-famous paintings.
Many of Vann Nath’s works remain on permanent display at the prison, which is now a genocide museum. A dozen hung at his gallery yesterday.
Lon Dara, Vann Nath’s son-in-law, said the family was not sure yet what they would do with the gallery, but said the paintings were still for sale.
Representatives from the French and Japanese embassies and staff from the Khmer Rouge tribunal also paid their respects yesterday. By the time the monks were chanting and the late afternoon rain had settled into a steady rhythm, a letter of condolence from Prime Minister Hun Sen and first lady Bun Rany arrived with a donation.
The first couple said they shared in the “indescribable sadness” brought by Vann Nath’s passing, and paid homage to his historic role.
“Vann Nath played an important historic role at the present time through offering testimony without exhaustion in order to help the next generation remember and prevent the return of the cruel genocidal regime,” Hun Sen said. “My wife and I wish that Vann Nath’s spirit rests in a peaceful place.”