Thirty-nine years after the Khmer Rouge took power on April 17, 1975, tribute is being paid afresh to survivors and victims of the regime with a new series of exhibitions planned at Phnom Penh’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, a former Khmer Rouge prison.
Spearheaded by Youk Chhang, executive director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), the first of these has already been installed: A billboard-sized print of four of the regime’s younger survivors taken on January 10, 1979. Five children were discovered at the liberated prison; they had been hiding under a pile of clothes belonging to detainees who had been put to death.
“One girl died immediately because of exhaustion,” Mr. Chhang said.
The large-scale photograph, mounted to a wall outside the far end of Building A, depicts the two unnamed baby girls who survived the prison being held by Cambodian soldiers. Little boys Norng Chanphal and Norng Chanly stand naked, surrounded by the soldiers.
“The four child survivors for me—a child is a piece of white paper, untouched and pure and survivors, and they seem to be forgotten, so I put that first,” Mr. Chhang said.
The next phase will focus on the display of “1,000 photos with names,” he said, in reference to a trove of photographs donated to DC-Cam in 2012.
“Each of them has a name on the back of the photo,” he said of the cache, which includes the photos of two foreigners who were killed at the prison.
“I want to encourage people to look for family members who passed,” he said. “Without family, we don’t have a nation and I want to bring attention to it.”
Another billboard to be erected in coming days features people heading back to Phnom Penh after the fall of the regime.
“April 17 represents a broken hope…I always question myself what it would be like now if there had been no genocide—we would have progress in our nation.”
crothers@cambodiadaily.com
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