Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Showing the women beneath the scars



Showing the women beneath the scars

Ann-Christine Woehrl and her book IN/VISIBLE. Photo supplied
Ann-Christine Woehrl and her book IN/VISIBLE. Photo supplied

Showing the women beneath the scars

Between 2011 and 2014, German photographer Ann-Christine Woehrl shot portraits of 48 survivors of acid and fire attacks in Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Cambodia, Pakistan, Iran and India, working closely with the Acid Survivors Trust International. The results have been turned into a book, IN/VISIBLE – published in 2014 by Austria’s Edition Lammerhuber – and a travelling exhibition that has visited Germany, France and Colombia. Ahead of IN/VISIBLE’s opening tonight at Phnom Penh’s Meta House, Will Jackson spoke to Woehrl via email.

What do you hope to achieve with the project and can you explain the title of the exhibition?
My intention in the project is to show the women as survivors and heroines, rather than victims. This is about their strength to move on in life. So the title of the exhibition refers to the fact that the women have become invisible within their societies and therefore stands the dash: the project wants to make [the survivors] visible in the way that the women have a platform to make themselves visible again.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sokneang was working in a Preah Vihear karaoke club when a customer's wife threw acid on her. Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism

What were the photoshoots like?
The portraits sessions were taken in all very distinct circumstances. As for Cambodia, I had a very close contact thanks to Cambodian Acid Survivors Charity and Erin Bourgois. Chantheoun, the woman I followed closely for some days, was very open minded towards me and let me share her life and introduced me to all her family members.

Why did you shoot the women on black backgrounds?
For the portraits, I portrayed them all with a black backdrop as I wanted to isolate them from their environment and society and just allow them to show themselves as women, with all their dignity and pride. Moreover, I followed one of those women in each country more closely in their daily life to show what it really means to live with that stigma and to show also their strength and courage in how the women moved on in their lives.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Sidra was at a friend's house when her friend's brother molested her and then attacked her with acid. Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism

What do you think people in general can learn from these women?
By looking at the photos, the audience will hopefully overcome their feelings of discomfort and look at the women and at their fate and their tremendous courage and strength to move on in their lives. We all can learn that we are the ones making other people outcasts and deepening the scars, and that we should acknowledge the women as who they are.

You’ve photographed acid and fire attack victims across several countries. Are there any aspects of acid attacks that tend to be the same everywhere?
I think that, in most of the countries, the driving force of such attacks are hurt feelings – jealousy, rejection – and it is still predominantly gender-based violence, although in Cambodia, Uganda and Colombia almost 40 per cent of acid attacks are reported against men.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
When she was 16, Christine was attacked by an ex-girlfriend of her fiance, Moses, who stood by her. Ann-Christine Woehrl/Echo Photojournalism

What are you doing with the proceeds of the book?
The book has been fully financed by the publisher and as mentioned above it is not a book that sells enormously, therefore I haven’t been touching any money from the sales yet. My contribution to help the cause so far was selling edition prints of the series, and a percentage goes to ASTI and through it to the partner organisations and to encourage the women to [create] arts and crafts to be sold at the museum shops and generate money for the survivors.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

Ann-Christine Woehrl will speak at the opening of the IN/VISIBLE exhibition 8pm tonight (Saturday) at Meta House, #37 Sothearos Boulevard. The evening will also feature films about acid survivors in Cambodia and elsewhere.

MOST VIEWED

  • Cambodia on the verge of national tragedy, WHO warns

    The World Health Organisation (WHO) in Cambodia warned that the country had reached another critical point amid a sudden, huge surge in community transmission cases and deaths. “We stand on the brink of a national tragedy because of Covid-19. Despite our best efforts, we are

  • Phnom Penh placed in two-week lockdown

    The government has decided to place Phnom Penh in lockdown for two weeks, effective April 14 midnight through April 28, as Cambodia continues to grapple with the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has seen no sign of subsiding. According to a directive signed by Prime Minister

  • Vaccination open to foreigners in Cambodia

    The Ministry of Health on April 8 issued an announcement on Covid-19 vaccination for foreigners residing and working in Cambodia, directing the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training and local authorities to register them. Health minister Mam Bun Heng, who is also head of the inter-ministerial

  • Culture ministry: Take Tuol Sleng photos down, or else

    The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has told Irish photographer Matt Loughrey to take down the photos of Khmer Rouge victims at Tuol Sleng Genocidal Museum which he allegedly colourised and altered to show them smiling. The ministry said Loughrey's work is unacceptable, affecting

  • Cambodia gears up for muted New Year festival

    The recent curfew and restrictions imposed in the capital and other Covid-19 hotspots were intended to break the chain of transmission, Ministry of Health spokeswoman Or Vandine said as municipal and provincial authorities issued new directives banning certain activities during the upcoming Khmer New Year

  • Covid-19 vaccination now obligatory

    Prime Minister Hun Sen on April 11 issued a sub-decree making Covid-19 vaccination compulsory for individuals unless they have a medical certificate proving they have pre-existing health conditions that prevent them from doing so. «This applies to all members of the armed forces and civil servants