Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - An abstract remembrance of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng




An abstract remembrance of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
One of the photographs on display, taken at the Choeung Ek killing fields. Eliah Lillis

An abstract remembrance of Choeung Ek and Tuol Sleng

The beauty of the photographs hanging on the otherwise bare walls of the school-turned-prison-turned-museum stands in stark contrast to the pain they depict. Each image presents a tiny piece of the museum’s historic ambience; a crack in the building’s wall, the view looking out from a prison cell, a rusted bed and barbed wire. German photographer Ann-Christine Woehrl’s new exhibition, called Shaded Memories, is currently on display in two rooms at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Memorial Museum. It depicts both Tuol Sleng and the Choeung Ek killing fields, which lie 12 kilometres from the capital.

“The photographs connect the past with the present, which is important for coming to terms with the past,” Woehrl explains. “It’s abstract and associative.”

For Woehrl, the decision to capture Cambodia’s violent history was made after she travelled to the Kingdom for another project. In 2013, she came here to photograph women burned and disfigured by acid attacks. She visited the former prison during the trip, and the emotional impact was palpable, she explains.

“I had to leave … I had this feeling that the victims were here,” Woehrl says. “These places still speak.”

After returning to Germany to finish her project, Woehrl found Cambodia stuck in her mind. In 2015, she decided to return to the Kingdom and to begin the project now on display.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Ann-Christine Woehrl at S-21. Eliah Lillis

The artistry of the collection calls attention to Cambodia’s troubled past without overemphasising the gruesome nature of the photographs’ subjects. For Woehrl, it was a way to pay tribute to the genocide’s victims. Antipersonnel mines are captured covered in crunchy, fallen leaves. A misty image of a rope used to torture prisoners looks almost like a painting. There are images of the prostheses used by victims who lost their limbs to mines, and of the headphones used to convey translations at the Khmer Rouge tribunal, the international court set up to bring justice for genocide survivors.

Pointing to a photograph of the trees at Choeung Ek, Woehrl recalls the moment she took the picture.

“The sun came out from behind the trees and shadows formed in the shape of a skull,” she says.

On numerous occasions, Germany has worked with Cambodian officials to promote genocide remembrance in the Kingdom, where between 1.5 and 3 million people died during the Khmer Rouge rule from 1975 to 1979.

Most recently, Tuol Sleng’s director, Chhay Visoth, helped curate the Shaded Memories exhibition in Munich’s Museum Fünf Kontinente, where it premiered last week. Visoth was also invited to tour Germany’s own genocide museums and memorials, said Dr Ingo Karsten, Germany’s ambassador to Cambodia, during the exhibition’s inaugural presentation at Tuol Sleng on Thursday, February 23.

Likewise, Woehrl’s exhibition will play a role in promoting remembrance and reconciliation with Cambodia’s past, said Secretary of State Chuch Pheurn during the presentation.

“The tragedy of the Khmer Rouge is not only for the Cambodian people, but for the world to remember,” Pheurn said. “It’s important for people around the world to understand genocide.”

Shaded Memories will be showing until September 23. The book is available at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.

MOST VIEWED

  • ‘Kingdom one of safest to visit in Covid-19 era’

    The Ministry of Tourism on January 12 proclaimed Cambodia as one of the safest countries to visit in light of the Kingdom having been ranked number one in the world by the Senegalese Economic Prospective Bureau for its success in handling the Covid-19 pandemic. In rankings

  • Ministry mulls ASEAN+3 travel bubble

    The Ministry of Tourism plans to launch a travel bubble allowing transit between Cambodia and 12 other regional countries in a bid to resuscitate the tourism sector amid crushing impact of the ongoing spread of Covid-19, Ministry of Tourism spokesman Top Sopheak told The Post on

  • Kingdom accepts Chinese vaccine, PM first to get jab

    Prime Minister Hun Sen said China would offer Cambodia an immediate donation of one million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine produced by the Sinopharm company. In an audio message addressing the public on the night of January 15, he said Cambodia has accepted the offer and

  • Reeling in Cambodia’s real estate sector

    A new norm sets the scene but risks continue to play out in the background A cold wind sweeps through the streets of Boeung Trabek on an early January morning as buyers and traders engage in commerce under bright blue skies. From a distance, the

  • PM asks India for vaccine help

    Prime Minister Hun Sen is seeking assistance from India for the provision of Covid-19 vaccines as the country has produced its own vaccine which is scheduled to be rolled out to more than 300 million Indians this year. The request was made during his meeting with

  • Capital set to beef up security

    Phnom Penh municipal governor Khuong Sreng held the first meeting of the year with heads of armed forces in the capital to review and repair the deficiencies related to gun control, drug crimes, social order disruptions due to alcohol consumption and traffic law enforcement. Municipal