It is widely accepted that education about the Khmer Rouge regime is sorely lacking in Cambodia. Though progress is being made to rectify this situation in the nation's schools, such efforts are in their early stages.
In the meantime, a new exhibit at Tuol Sleng aims to provide a "pseudo-visual textbook" for the Cambodian population. Reflections: Democratic Kampuchea and Beyond "is a small yet significant step to finding other avenues to teach Cambodians and the international community about Democratic Kampuchea" according to Sarah Jones Dickens, an exhibit curator and fellow Fulbrighter.
I haven't had a chance to visit the collection yet, but plan to when I return to Phnom Penh next week. Still, I can provide some information about what seems to be an informative and highly necessary undertaking.
According to Jones Dickens, Reflections takes "museum visitors on an historical-visual journey, starting on April 17, 1975 when the Khmer Rouge entered Phnom Penh and ending in the present day."
The exhibit includes photographs pulled from the archives and publications of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, three scanned "confessions" of Tuol Sleng prisoners and a depiction of all the mass graves throughout Cambodia.
Though several educational displays already exist at Tuol Sleng, they do not provide a comprehensive historical overview of the Khmer Rouge movement and its legacy. In recent surveys, museum visitors stressed that "there is scant information about the reasons behind the Khmer Rouge and life under Democratic Kampuchea," Jones Dickens writes in the DC-Cam publication Searching for the Truth.
From my previous visits to Tuol Sleng, I'd have to say this is true. I remember thinking that if I hadn't already read quite a bit about the Khmer Rouge, I would have left Tuol Sleng with an incomplete understanding of the regime, its history and ideology.
Hopefully, Reflections will help fill this information void. Ultimately, Jones Dickens writes, the exhibition "may inspire future research on the Khmer Rouge, spark discourse amongst survivors and their children, shed light on the extent of the brutality, and encourage participation in the search for ‘truth' and justice from all walks of life."
* Pictured above: a confession from a Tuol Sleng prisoner. At left: Museum visitors read about Khmer Rouge history at the new Reflections exhibit. Photos provided by Sarah Jones Dickens.