Exhibition explores cruel legacy of Khmer Rouge era

Exhibition explores cruel legacy of Khmer Rouge era


Young artists make contemporary statements in an effort to come to grips with past atrocities, in the second part of the Art of Survival exhibition


Gallery visitors view a work by Cambodian artist Chan Pisey, part of the Art of Survival exhibition that offered a second series of artworks in Phnom Penh on Tuesday.


ART of Survival, an ongoing exhibition of works by contemporary local artists that reflects on the Khmer Rouge period, unveiled a second series of artworks at Meta House in Phnom Penh Tuesday evening.

Rekindled public interest in the Khmer Rouge era inspired the exhibition which will later go on a world tour to raise awareness of Cambodia in the international art community.

Cambodia is not currently as well known for its contemporary art scene as Thailand or Vietnam, said exhibition organiser and Meta House director Nico Mesterharm.

"There has been a huge international interest in the Khmer Rouge trials. We plan to take Art of Survival on a travelling exhibition in 2009 and hope it will coincide with the trial."

The works in the exhibition are all personal interpretations of Cambodia's recent traumatic past and each viewer's reaction is likely to differ, said Mesterharm.

"I feel that the creation and display of these pieces is another part of the process of reconciliation in Cambodia," he told the Post.

"Older Cambodians may be reminded of their experiences under Pol Pot and so may feel scared. Younger Cambodians may be furious that such events occurred. Foreigners may get a new perspective on Cambodian history and interpretations of the genocide."

One such "furious" young Cambodian is 26-year-old artist Chan Pisey, who said even though she wasn't born during the regime, she feels "terribly shocked" at the way the Khmer Rouge killed innocent people.

"I feel very hurt when I hear the tale of millions of Khmer people that died during the Khmer Rouge regime," Chan Pisey said. "I wonder how they can use their hands to kill their own people. Maybe they don't care for the eyes of people, which look at them and ask them to save their lives? Or are they maybe not human beings?"

Blood on black fabric

Pisey's artwork consisted of three frames, each with a different coloured krama and acrylic illustrations of soldiers with guns, victims of mass killings, and finally just dust and ashes.

An inscription of a Khmer Rouge slogan on one of the krama reads, "Justice organisation. The organisation does not wonder, the organisation just want to have a little blood and all the little blood will go in to the land very quick and disappear with the black tissue."

"All these words make me understand why all the Khmer people during that time had to wear black clothes, because the Khmer Rouge thought that the blood of the people would disappear into the black fabric," explained Pisey.

She bought the krama - "representative of the Khmer people" - from the Russian Market and finished the painting in one day, but the layout and framing of the piece took over a week.

"I wanted to show the Khmer Rouge psychology, how they kill without sentiment," said Pisey.

The exhibition, which runs through September 13, also features works by Cambodian artists Pich Sopheap, Chat Piersat, Chhouen Rithy, Chan Vitarin, and Chhim Sothy, as well as international guests Le Huy Hoang (Vietnam), Bradford Edwards (US), Panca Evenblij (Netherlands), Ali Sanderson (Australia), Virginie Noel (Belgium) and Herbert Mueller (Germany).


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