There is only a limited body of images representing the crimes perpetrated by the Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia or Democratic Kampuchea (1975-1979). The better known are the black-clad ant-like slaves building dykes and harvesting paddy fields, the heaps of bones and skulls displayed in memorials throughout the country, and the faces of the inmates at the infamous S-21/Tuol Sleng prison in Phnom Penh. The research uses a collection of documentary and artistic images that goes beyond this restricted set of evidentiary material. On this broader basis it explores ‘ways of seeing’ the Khmer Rouge’s violence in a changing memory landscape that engages the socialist, non-socialist, and post-socialist worlds and different interpretations of the notion of postcolonial.
Since the demise of the Pol Pot’s regime many different actors (Cambodians and non-Cambodians alike) have been involved in memorializing the Khmer Rouge era, rewriting the past to meet the needs of the present, as anthropologist Alexander Hinton aptly sums it up. Through a transnational perspective the research aims to clarify continuity and shifts in the identity and motivations of these actors. The paper presents some case studies ranging from the journey of European Maoist fellow travelers in Democratic Kampuchea to the building of memorials in the recent context of transitional justice (Khmer Rouge Tribunal). These examples are part of a field under construction that the research defines as ‘Khmer Rouge visual culture’. The paper proposes to elaborate further on this notion and to open it up to discussion.
Stéphanie Benzaquen is a PhD researcher at the Erasmus University Rotterdam. Her current research interests include visual culture as contact zone between Cambodia and the West, and political violence and culture memory in Southeast Asia.
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