Hun Sen’s Eye @HunSensEye
I’m the eye of Hun Sen, not Hun Sen. It’s lonely in here, so I need a creative outlet. Social media consultant for misunderstood strongmen everywhere.
Phnom Penh · hunsenseye.tumblr.com
Hun Sen’s Eye @HunSensEye
I’m the eye of Hun Sen, not Hun Sen. It’s lonely in here, so I need a creative outlet. Social media consultant for misunderstood strongmen everywhere.
Phnom Penh · hunsenseye.tumblr.com
Our City Festival is Cambodia’s first and only public festival to bring together creatives in Cambodian cities to focus on urbanism and its influence on contemporary culture.
After years of war and devastation, many Cambodian creatives are focusing on building the future. The cultural and creative fields are pioneering concepts to develop cities, empower citizens and participate in global innovation. Without government or institutional support these cultural activities rely entirely on personal contributions and sponsorship. Our City Festival 2014 needs financial support to fund projects by artists, architects and designers to imagine a better future.
Our City Festival (OCF) brings together artists, curators, architects, designers and the wider public to create, celebrate and look critically at the development of cities and communities in Cambodia. Through art and architecture themed events, exhibitions, conferences, performances, screenings, educational workshops and the active involvement of the youth and citizens, OCF fosters creation and discussion in a spirit of accessibility, learning and innovation for all.
(Public Square, Anida Yoeu Ali, OCF2011)
OCF strongly believes that change is led by the creative forces of a city and the festival aims to empower that process. It is a platform for Cambodian creatives and youth to celebrate their own voice, create their own vision, ignite their imaginations and engage the public.
For its 6th edition, OCF will span across the country to include three of the largest cities in Cambodia – Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap – from 16-23 of January 2014. An exhibition of creative projects will be showcased with pop up events and exhibitions happening around each city with our festival partners.
Current festival partners include: Amrita Performing Arts, Apexart, ChildSafe International, Epic Arts, Institut Francais, Meta House, UNESCO, UN Habitat, and more to be announced with the final program!
(Kaley, the giant crocodile, Pich Sopheap, 2012)
(Water, curse or blessing?!, AEDES, 2012)
Our City Festival is invested in youth and their participation in city-making. In 2012, the festival launched the Youth Ambassadors Program offering opportunities to Cambodian students to get involved with projects, the festival and workshops that expand their experiences of the city and the impacts of the decisions they make on a daily basis. We have a strong focus on accessibility and reach out to young populations to attend and participate in the festival. Support youth and build the future!
(Youth Ambassadors and Princess Soma Norodom, 2012)
We believe that everyone’s contribution will help make Our City Festival a truly accessible and dynamic festival of art, architecture and ideas. Financial support is very important and necessary. While the festival is founded on community and volunteer participation, there are also hard costs involved. Financial contributions will help cover the costs associated with art production, events and a small team across Phnom Penh, Battambang and Siem Reap.
Help us to make this happen!
Since launching in 2008, OCF has presented over 100 projects at 60 sites, and worked with 500 participants in Cambodia. It is initiated and powered by JavaArts, a non-profit cultural enterprise that started in 2000 in Phnom Penh, where it operates as a gallery, residency program and art space.
The Our City Festival 2014 team hail from around the world, with experience in arts, arts management and curating.
CITY CURATORS: City Curator: Phnom Penh, Sovan Philong; City Curator: Battambang, Mao Soviet; City Co-curators: Siem Reap, Oun Savann and Sasha Constable
PRODUCTION TEAM: Artistic Director and Founder, Dana Langlois; Marketing and Communications Manager, Daen Kelly; Partnership and Volunteer Manager, Olivia Wynne; Events Manager, Michelle O’Brien; Assistant Producers, Hang Sokunthea and Sok Kimheng
(Urban Lab interns, 2012)
Our City Festival is supported in part by the U.S. Embassy and ANZ Royal.
Like other secretive and totalitarian regimes of the twentieth century, Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge left behind hardly any visual record of its murderous rule. Of course, the KR leadership, which held total power in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979, had plenty of propaganda made to show the glories of their remaking of Cambodian society. Notoriously, they also left behind black and white head shots of every one of the fourteen thousand people who were admitted to Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, officially known as S-21, who were then tortured and executed. But the only two western reporters who were allowed into the country during the KR years were largely unable to record what was happening. Last year one of them, Elizabeth Becker, had an exhibition of her photographs in Phnom Penh, which drew a large and intensely interested audience. Yet while there are portraits of guerrilla soldiers, working peasants, and plenty of the leaders of the Angkar, the Organization, especially Pol Pot himself, there are no images of the starving children, torture, executions, and scenes of grief and misery that were pervasive under a regime that killed one-fifth of the Cambodian population.
The images that do not exist form the “missing picture” of Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh’s newest documentary, which won a top prize at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and is being screened at the New York Film Festival this fall. (It will be more widely released in the United States in the spring.) The Missing Picture is not a systematic history of the KR era, but it follows the chronology of events, beginning with a brief recollection of Phnom Penh when it was still a languid and abundant Southeast Asian city, perfumed with the scent of jasmine. Then, with the collapse of the American-supported government, young Khmer Rouge soldiers emerged from their jungle redoubts—they had been recruited mostly from Cambodia’s villages—and took over the country’s capital. Panh remembers the silence and stares of these well-indoctrinated boys who were almost children themselves, the first sign of the regime’s mortal hostility to the city and its inhabitants, and then the four years during which the Angkar killed off hundreds of thousands of people—members of the ancien régime of course, but also virtually anybody with an education, anybody who wore glasses, anybody capable of independent thought. After only a short year or so, Cambodia had already become “collectivist, uncorrupt, equal, and prosperous,” as Pol Pot announced, though real life was “straw huts, drought, exhaustion, hunger, speakers blaring slogans,” and, of course, 1.7 million deaths in a population of less than ten million.
Panh was thirteen years old when the Khmer Rouge took power and brought his middle class life in Phnom Penh to an end, literally from one day to the next. He lost his entire family in the ensuing Holocaust but managed, miraculously, to survive himself and, when the Khmer Rouge fell, to move to France. Over the past couple of decades, he has made a series of landmark films on the experience of Cambodians during those years. These include two quietly powerful and unforgettable earlier works on S-21 itself, one of them a long, intimate series of interviews with the man known as Comrade Duch who was the prison’s commandant and supervised the grim work that took place there.
In a way Panh has all along been presenting Cambodia’s missing picture, struggling to remember, reminding his audiences, which, until now, have been mostly in France (his films are made in French), of the savage absurdity of the Khmer Rouge’s radical experiment in utopian social engineering. But The Missing Picture marks a departure from his earlier work. Until now, Panh has allowed the testimony of the witnesses that appear in his film, their memories, their explanations, justifications, excuses, and admissions of criminal conduct, to carry his story. There is no narration, no explanation, no effort to put the rise of the Khmer Rouge into a broader historical setting—the Vietnam War, the American bombing, the sharp contrasts of wealth and poverty that gave the Khmer Rouge much of its early following.
His new documentary is without interviews, without the intrusive camera and magnified close-ups of victims and perpetrators alike that he has used in the past. Unlike his earlier work, this new film provides explanatory narration, written by Panh, that offers both memories of his own experiences under the regime and terse, aphoristic observations on the nature and the meaning of it all.
But how to depict the grisly reality of a period during which the only permitted images were those of a controlled propaganda machine? As in his other work, Panh uses some of the available historical footage to good effect: grainy scenes of the rural work camps full of identically-dressed masses of people dumping panniers of earth over an embankment, images of the leaders of the Angkar smiling and applauding on official visits. These are the pictures of the Khmer rouge that are not missing, Panh says in his narration. They have survived along with some almost comically propagandistic footage of the enemies of the regime (presumably Vietnamese or soldiers of the previous Lon Nol government) being mowed down by KR guerrillas armed only with bows and arrows.
Yet none of this tells us what was really going on. To make up for the pictures we don’t have, Panh uses small clay figurines, hundreds of them, painted, clothed, with individual expressions on their faces, and placed in meticulously detailed dioramas that he seems to have reconstructed from the memories of his youth. Among the first of these is a figure of Panh’s father, an official in the Ministry of Education in a white suit and dark tie who, in what Panh eventually came to see as a heroic act of resistance, starved himself to death rather than allowing himself to be treated as a farm animal by Cambodia’s rulers. There are scenes of Khmer Rouge hospitals where patients lay on beds of wooden planks. And, then there’s the scene in a village, again recreated with clay figurines, in which a nine year-old child who denounces his mother for eating a mango, an act of selfish individualism. Afterwards she is led into the forest and never returns.
These clay statuettes, never before used by Panh in any of his earlier work, cannot, of course, fully depict the horror of the Khmer Rouge story. They are necessarily silent, immobile, and therefore devoid of the intensity of those moments in other Panh films where his camera bores in on the face of a witness and lingers there as he remembers what happened, or what he did. But as Panh’s narration in the new film proceeds, the statuettes take on a reality of their own, a voodoo-like power, their individual features an aid to avoiding what might otherwise be a kind of depersonalizing abstraction.
Certain themes emerge, notably the degree to which the killings were related to ideology, which in Democratic Kampuchea meant, as Panh puts it, that reality had to conform with Pol Pot’s wishes. Since capitalist machines were “corrupt,” peasants would use their bodies as machines, and though it might kill them, their deaths would be pure. But perhaps the greatest immediate value of Panh’s heroic efforts to preserve the memory of the Cambodian Holocaust is the implicit reminder that films like The Missing Picture provide of what is, in effect, a culture of oblivion and impunity in Cambodia today. The crimes were unspeakable, horrific, and well-known, and yet so far only one person, Duch, has been convicted of them—by the Special Cambodian-United Nations Tribunal that has been meeting in Phnom Penh now for almost four years. Many of the top KR leaders, including Pol Pot, are dead; only two other senior leaders remain on trial, and the government of the autocratic Prime Minister Hun Sen, which includes a number of people who were themselves close to the Khmer Rouge, has resisted expanding the trial to include other Khmer Rouge officials who were directly involved in orchestrating the killings.
At one moment in The Missing Picture, a photograph that is not missing appears on the screen. It shows Panh’s nieces and nephews in a happy moment before the KR takeover, not long before they died of starvation as a result of the KR’s savage misrule. Panh’s documentary is an accusation against those who killed them, and who remain unpunished, at large, immune from prosecution.
Rith Panh’s The Missing Picture (L’image manquante) is being shown at theNew York Film Festival on October 8 and will be released in the US in March.
The revival of Cambodia’s rich and unique cultural heritage has fueled the country’s impressive recovery from the Khmer Rouge’s genocide of 1975-79. This message rang unmistakably true as the Season of Cambodia (SOC) has dazzled New York audiences in museums, universities, galleries, and performing arts centers over the past month. Both the U.S. and the Cambodian governments stand to learn from this game-changing lesson for post-conflict development strategy, but neither government seems to have noticed.
The 125 Cambodian artists supported and hosted by over 30 New York institutions have revealed the near miraculous preservation of the venerated arts of shadow puppetry and Cambodian classical ballet, as well as the dynamic new visions in dance, visual arts, and film of the artists from Cambodia’s youthful majority (70 percent under age 30).
To understand the significance of creative expression and cultural heritage in rebuilding Cambodia, you have first to understand the utter devastation wreaked by the Khmer Rouge during their reign of terror.
Nearly a third of the population, between 1.7 and 2.5 million out of a total population of 8 million, was killed between 1975-79. The dictator Pol Pot, himself with a degree from the Sorbonne, targeted anyone with an education. Ninety per cent of artists and intellectuals were murdered.
The U.S. opened the door to Pol Pot and his genocidal regime. America supported General Lon Nol over the more popular King Sihanouk, but it was the massive US bombing campaign, with more ordinance than the total dropped by the Allies in World War II, that led Cambodians to see the Khmer Rouge as their salvation. (The analogy to the drone campaign radicalizing Pakistan has been made.)
Greeted as liberators when they entered Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge immediately launched their brutal campaign. They divided families and outlawed familial love, moved everyone into the countryside, eliminated all cultural traditions and creative expression, and made the entire population work grueling 18-hour days on a subsistence diet.
Arn Chorn-Pond — musician, Cambodian genocide survivor, former child soldier, and founder ofCambodian Living Arts, the organization behind the Season of Cambodia — recognized the essential role of reviving culture in rebuilding the country. In returning masters of music, dance, and puppetry to their rightful place in society, Chorn-Pond and the other co-founders of Cambodian Living Arts helped restore identity, pride, and resilience to the Cambodian people.
The Khmer Rouge targeted artists, Chorn-Pond explains, because “they expressed who they were as human beings.” While brutal regimes like the Khmer Rouge or the Taliban recognize the threat that cultural identity and expression pose to their totalitarian control — think of the fate of the Bamiyan Buddhas or of the libraries in Timbuktu — the United States rarely prioritizes culture in post-conflict situations. (Afghanistan, where the U.S. successfully has supported culture and media, is an exception). No USAID funds for Cambodia have gone to culture.
The Season of Cambodia shows that recovery from trauma and conflict requires more than food and security. The soul of a country must also be nourished. The shell-shocked Cambodian survivors had to move beyond the genocide, and develop the strength to rebuild their country.
The story behind Lida Chan’s documentary Red Wedding, screened in the SOC’s Film Festival illustrates how the process of filmmaking as well as the end product can heal past pain, empower Cambodians to chart their future, and bridge the generation gap between survivors of the Khmer Rouge and today’s youth.
Chan’s film chronicles 48-year-old Sochan Pen’s determined search for the man who forced her, at age 16, to “marry” him. Pen escaped, but not until after her Khmer Rouge “husband” had raped and beaten her.
The process of sharing her story with the young filmmaker empowered Sochan Pen to testify against her “husband” at the Cambodia Tribunal, and to travel the country, telling her story, empowering other forced “brides” to speak up with her example.
Trained by Cambodia’s most renowned filmmaker Rithy Panh in his Bophana Center, Lida Chan and her experience affirm Panh’s belief that “Cambodians are learning to tell their own story, something that never has happened before.”
For his critical work preserving Cambodia’s cinematic past, and teaching future generations, Rithy Panh receives little support from the Cambodian or U.S. government.
To date, the Cambodian government has not made support for the arts a priority. Imagine what a fund built from a small tax added to Angkor Wat ticket prices could do to unleash the creative and economic potential of Cambodia’s youthful population.
The breakaway success of Artisans Angkor shows that investments in culture also can reap financial rewards. Led by Phloeun Prim, the charismatic architect of the Season of Cambodia, Artisans Angkor in a decade evolved from a modest NGO to a business with tens of millions of dollars in revenue, and over one thousand employees.
The Season of Cambodia offers the vision of a creative, dynamic, country, with a distinctive past and a promising future, a country that, to quote Festival architect Phloeun Prim, “has made arts and culture its international signature, not just the killing fields”. That dramatic transformation should persuade both the American and Cambodian governments of the importance of supporting the cultural sector in rebuilding this and other post-conflict societies.
First published May 9, 2013 on USC’s CPD Blog
By TOM MASHBERG and RALPH BLUMENTHAL
Six weeks ago the Metropolitan Museum of Art sent two of its top executives to Cambodia to resolve a thorny dispute: whether two pieces of ancient Khmer art that the museum has long prominently exhibited were the product of looting.
One of the “Kneeling Attendants.”
In days they had their answer. Cambodian officials documented that the two 10th-century Khmer statues, donated to the Met in four pieces as separate gifts between 1987 and 1992, had indeed been smuggled out of a remote jungle temple around the time of the country’s civil war in the 1970s.
On Friday the museum said it would repatriate the life-size sandstone masterworks, known as the Kneeling Attendants, which have guarded the doorway to the Met’s Southeast Asian galleries since they opened in 1994.
The decision came after months of behind-the-scenes contact between the Met and Cambodian officials. Thomas P. Campbell, the museum’s director, said the decision — one of the more significant in a recent spate of controversial repatriations by American museums — came after the Cambodians offered evidence that the works had been improperly removed from the Koh Ker temple complex, 180 miles northwest of Phnom Penh.
Among the evidence the officials considered were photographs of the statue’s broken-off bases, which were left behind at the site, and witness statements that the Cambodians have collected suggesting that the statues were intact as recently as 1970.
“This is a case in which additional information regarding the Kneeling Attendants has led the museum to consider facts that were not known at the time of the acquisition and to take the action we are announcing today,” Mr. Campbell said in a statement.
No timetable has been set. The museum told Cambodian officials in a letter last month that it hoped to send the objects as soon as “appropriate arrangements for transit can be mutually established.”
The Met’s decision reflects the growing sensitivity by American museums to claims by foreign countries for the return of their cultural artifacts. Many items have long been displayed in museums that do not have precise paperwork showing how the pieces left their countries of origin. In recent years, at the urging of the Association of Art Museum Directors and scholars, many museums have applied more rigorous standards to their acquisitions.
At the time the statues came to the Met in four pieces — two torsos and two heads — the Met and the museum world allowed acquisitions without detailed histories, although an effort was supposed to be made to examine an object’s origin in case it was illicit.
In an interview from Cambodia, Chan Tani, the secretary of state with the nation’s Office of the Council of Ministers, expressed excitement about the return.
“This shows the high ethical standards and professional practices of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which they are known for,” he said.
Cambodian officials also visited the Met in March to photograph its Khmer items. A government official said that Cambodia would like the museum to review the provenance of another two dozen objects.
The Met has developed a collaborative relationship with the country and is now exhibiting 10 sculptural works by the contemporary Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. The museum is also hoping to hold a major exhibition of Khmer artifacts next year.
The negotiations over the statues, which began last June, culminated with the trip by Sharon Cott, the Met’s general counsel, and John Guy, its Southeast Asian curator, to Cambodia in March.
“As a matter of courtesy, they wanted to go there rather than communicate by e-mail,” said Harold Holzer, the Met’s senior vice president for external affairs.
Among the evidence cited by the Cambodians was the finding of the statues’ broken-off bases still at the temple. That discovery is significant, according to Cambodian officials, who say archaeologists have evidence showing that other statues from the same grouping as the twins remained in place as late as 1970, only to disappear by 1975.
Another object that was once part of the same grouping is a huge 10th-century statue of a warrior, known as Duryodhana, which Sotheby’s had hoped to sell in 2011 for $3 million on behalf of its Belgian owner.
Cambodia says that statue was also looted. United States officials have filed suit in federal court in Manhattan to confiscate the statue on Cambodia’s behalf. The trial is expected to start later this year.
Sotheby’s has said it applied all appropriate standards of provenance research before agreeing to sell the statue. Asked on Friday what impact the Met’s decision might have on the court case, Sotheby’s replied in a statement that: “The Met’s voluntary agreement does not shed any light on the key issues in our case.” The auction house says that the consignor bought the statue in good faith in 1975 and that it had no knowledge of Cambodia’s claim of ownership.
A fourth statue in the grouping, called Bhima, is at the Norton Simon Museum in Pasadena, Calif. Cambodia has also asked the United States government to help it recover the Bhima from the Norton Simon. The museum says it is cooperating with investigators.
The Kneeling Attendants came to the Met in a series of gifts that began in 1987 when Spink & Son, a London auction house, and a longtime Khmer art collector, Douglas A. J. Latchford, joined in donating one of the two heads. A second head was donated by Raymond G. and Milla Louise Handley in 1989, who had bought it two years earlier, also at Spink.
In 1992, Mr. Latchford gave the museum the two torsos, and in 1993 the heads and bodies were reattached by museum conservators.
At one time Mr. Latchford was also listed as an owner of the Sotheby’s statue, which was later sold by Spink to the husband, now dead, of its current owner.
Mr. Latchford, 81, has said that the paperwork was mistaken — that the auction house listed him as an owner for accounting purposes and that he never actually purchased the warrior statue. He has denied having any role in the illicit shipments of Cambodian antiquities.
In an interview from Bangkok, where he lives, Mr. Latchford said of the Met’s statues: “Admittedly these things were moonlighted out of Cambodia and wound up somewhere else. But had they not been, they would likely have been shot up for target practice by the Khmer Rouge.”
He said that collectors and museums had been essential in rescuing and caring for cultural artifacts that spread an understanding of Khmer culture.
Mr. Latchford has donated at least seven other items to the Met, including the stone head of a Buddha and the bronze head of a Shiva, both from the 10th-century Khmer Angkor period, according to the museum’s Web site.
Mr. Holzer said there was no special effort under way to re-examine the provenance of those items.
Over the years the Met has returned many objects of questionable provenance to other countries. In 2010 it sent Egypt 19 pieces from King Tutankhamun’s tomb that had been in its collection since the early 1900s. In 2006 the Met signed an agreement with Italy to return the famous Euphronios krater, a Hellenistic silver collection and four other antiquities in exchange for loans of some of the items and other pieces.
In 1997 the Met returned a 10th-century head of Shiva to Cambodia after it turned up on a list of looted objects from Angkor.
Tess Davis, a researcher on Cambodian antiquities with the Scottish Center for Crime and Justice Research in Glasgow, said that the Met’s gesture should serve as a signal to other American museums that possess antiquities with sketchy provenances.
“The Met could have treated Cambodia’s request as an obstacle,” she said. “Instead, the museum recognized it as an opportunity to set the moral standard for the art world.”
In conjunction with the citywide Season of Cambodia arts festival, the great documentarian Rithy Panh presents a fascinating survey of new and recent films from Cambodia.
Season of Cambodia, a special initiative of Cambodian Living Arts in partnership with Cambodia’s leading arts organizations and New York’s most vibrant cultural and academic institutions, will bring more than 125 performing and visual artists to New York City’s stages, screens, galleries and public spaces, creating a broad and dynamic platform for Cambodia’s cultural treasures to be shared with an international audience. Season of Cambodia will be a celebration of the living arts—of the people and practices that make up our cultural fabric.
From the serene countryside of Cambodia to the halls of New York’s School of American Ballet, Dancing Across Borders peeks behind the scenes into the world of dance and chronicles the triumphant story of a boy who was discovered, and who only much later discovered all that he had in himself.
Rithy Panh records the unadorned words of Duch, the first leader of the Khmer Rouge organization to be brought before an international criminal justice court, without any trimmings, in the isolation of a face-to-face encounter.
Five young Cambodian directors follow five lives in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. The films were produced during a documentary workshop led by acclaimed director Rithy Panh.
Davy Chou’s moving investigation of Cambodia’s lost cinematic heritage is an oral history with first-hand accounts of the emergence and flourishing of that country’s cinema in the 60s by directors, actors and cinephiles.
The Last Refuge follows the resistance of the Bunong people of eastern Cambodia as they confront alienation and annihilation by foreign companies who steal their lands and clear their sacred forests and cemeteries in order to cultivate rubber plants.
Sochan Pen kept the secret of her rape by a Khmer Rouge soldier she was forced to marry for four decades. By bringing her complaint to a UN-sanctioned tribunal, she speaks up for the 4000+ women who shared her fate.
A program comprising four short films: The Granddaughters of Water(Yann Cantais, France, 2012, 12m); Paulina (Caylee So, USA, 2012, 30m);Samsara (Ellen Bruno, USA, 1989, 29m); Two Girls Against the Rain(Sopheak Sao, Cambodia, 2013, 11m).
Screening of video about Our City Festival during the colloquium presented during Season of Cambodia.