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Traces of Trauma
Southeast Asia Politics, Meaning, and Memory David Chandler and Rita Smith Kipp Series Editors
Traces of Trauma Cambodian Visual Culture and National Identity in the Aftermath of Genocide
University of Hawai‘i Press Honolulu
© 2020 University of Hawai‘i Press All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America 25 24 23 22 21 20 6 5 4 3 2 1
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Ly, Boreth, author. Title: Traces of trauma : Cambodian visual culture and national identity in the aftermath of genocide / Boreth Ly. Other titles: Southeast Asia—politics, meaning, memory. Description: Honolulu : University of Hawai‘i Press,  | Series: Southeast Asia: politics, meaning, and memory | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019016559 | ISBN 9780824856069 (cloth ; alk. paper) Subjects: LCSH: Arts, Cambodian. | Nationalism and the arts—Cambodia. | Genocide—Cambodia—Psychological aspects. Classification: LCC N7315 .L9 2020 | DDC 700.9596—dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019016559 University of Hawai‘i Press books are printed on acid-free paper and meet the guidelines for permanence and durability of the Council on Library Resources. All uncredited photographs are by the author. Cover art: Amy Lee Sanford, Full Circle (Day Two, Empty). Six-day performance, MetaHouse Gallery, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 2012.
This book is dedicated to the memory of my parents and siblings who perished in the Khmer Rouge genocide (1975–1979). You will always be in my memory and dreams.
Preface ix Acknowledgments xiii Introduction 1 1. Broken Body: Situating Trauma in the Visual Cultures of Cambodia and Its Diaspora 12 2. Scarred Resilience: The Legacy of the United States’ Secret Bombing of Cambodia 37 3. Portraits of a Dictator: Khmer Rouge Ideology and the Politics of Aesthetics 59 4. Of Krama and Khmer Identity: The Land Where the Sugar Palm Trees Grow 80 5. Performing Khmer Cultural Identity: The Tale/Tail of the Serpent Princess 103 Conclusion 123 Notes 129 Selected Bibliography 153 Index 161 Color plates follow pages 58 and 102
Revisiting, revising, and completing this manuscript was one of the most difficult tasks I have ever faced. I began the project hoping, through the arts, to make sense of the violence, trauma, and ethical and moral conflicts I believe all Khmers in the homeland and in the various diasporas have had to endure and overcome in the post–Khmer Rouge period. But every time I have gone back to Cambodia, I have seen that Phnom Penh—the city where I was born, the city of my ancestral homes, the city where generations of my humble Khmer Chinese family lived and died, and where many of my close relatives were murdered—has been transformed from the abandoned and impoverished metropolis I saw in 1979 to a city filled with skyscrapers. The prewar (i.e., before 1975) ways of life have slowly disappeared. These skyscrapers could also be interpreted as chedeys, stupas built to house the ashes of ancestors and found on the grounds of Buddhist monasteries as tombstones memorializing the death of an older city haunted by memories of the past. Perhaps these changes are inevitable and I must learn to accept that my Phnom Penh exists only in my memory, a place that Salman Rushdie poignantly described as “imaginary homelands.”1 My Laotian-French friend Ratsamy Viphakone-Zafran, an artist who shares a similar history and memory of her homeland, once advised me, “Let it go and let it flow.” Of course, she was referring to the Mekong River that cuts across our home countries of Laos and Cambodia.2 I am also reminded of David Lowenthal’s 1985 book, The Past Is a Foreign Country,3 though in my case, the past is a more local and familiar country. Indeed, displaced diasporic subjects like me can only access their pasts through the act of remembering, and time, I would argue, is fragile and unreliable. It needs to be constantly and persis tently imagined and reimagined—through the act of remembering. Further, upon each of my visits to Cambodia I saw corruption, violence, impunity, immorality, and divisiveness among the Khmers in terms of social class, race, and ethnicity. I also witnessed a decline of the Buddhist religion; now some of the monks and novices pay no attention to the vinaya, the monastic rules. Rather they are as intoxicated by money and materialism as members of the lay community. In fact, many of my Khmer friends refer to
x : Preface
the current practice of Buddhism in Cambodia as “Dollar Sasana” (the teaching of US dollars).4 Of course, this corruption in the practice of Bud dhism happened in the neighboring countries of Laos and Thailand too, but what I saw in Cambodia demoralized me and sent me into a state of doubt and despair; I became incapacitated by a major moral crisis. My Khmer friends from the diasporas of France, Canada, and the United States kept reminding me that “we are guests, and we are lucky they let us return to visit and to live here.” But also, the United States is not a welcoming country for a Cambodian American like me. I have experienced racist and homophobic incidents in Santa Cruz, California, where I live and work. In brief, no matter how broad or inclusive the definition of a nation is, I find that these multiple “otherings,” marginalizations, and exclusions in the age of nationalism and authoritarianism on the part of the respective home and host nations have left us without a homeland; we are thus nationless. Discourse focuses on us being “global nomads,” “transnational,” and “refugees.” In all of this, where is “home”? National- and state-inflicted violence and oppression have engendered great resentment and feelings of ambivalence toward one’s own ethnic group. I recall the words of the late Khmer poet and playwright Pich Tum Kravel, a pen name he acquired after the Khmer Rouge genocide, on this issue. His birth name was Chhorn Tort (1943–2015), and he survived the Khmer Rouge genocide.5 Kravel recalled that he was resentful and secretly harbored great hatred toward his own people for torturing him and depriv ing him of his freedom. As he recollects, one evening, after having endured a long day of hard labor, he went to bathe in a pond. There at sunset, he saw a flock of birds flying free: “I looked at these birds with envy. At that very moment I hated myself, hated my own people, though I shouldn’t say that. A poem that I have left on the surface of the water contained only two lines: ‘next life, never born as a Khmer, rather be born as a bird.’ ”6 Kravel carried on in the post-genocide period as a patriot who contributed greatly to restoring and preserving Khmer arts and culture. Perhaps a critical patriot (or “matriot”) is not an extreme nationalist who blindly supports the nation regardless of how it is governed, but an individual who has a love-hate rela tionship with his or her ethnic group and nation. In brief, a critical patriot is someone who inhabits a position of ambivalence. Where does a diasporic subject like me belong? My predicament is in many ways similar to that of Shirin Neshat, an Iranian artist who came to the United States to attend college in 1975. In Iran a revolution and change of political regime took place in 1979. In Neshat’s own words, she has been
Preface : xi
living in “self-imposed exile” in the United States ever since. Her art is partly about her experience of and nostalgia for prerevolutionary Iranian culture and identity. Roja, a short film she created in 2011, resonates poignantly with her struggle as an exiled and displaced artist. This black-and-white film captures a recurring dream the artist had about her mother. As she relates: [It] evolves around my personal, emotional, psychological and political relations, where I feel at once attached yet alienated by both the American culture and my motherland. . . .7 After a few years, the amount of nostalgia overwhelms you. In my dreams I always see my mother and I finally came to the conclusion that this mother figure is not really my mother. It is motherland. This was actually my own dream. When I interpreted later, I realized that [it] is my obsession [about] how I am not really welcome in any given cultures and places.8
In the film we see the daughter running forward with great anticipation to embrace her mother, only to be pushed away. It was these recurring dreams, memories, and nightmares that forced Neshat to confront and ultimately to accept her situation. I shared a similar predicament. I was everything and nothing at the same time. It was this complex politics of acceptance and rejection, a subject position and situation that I inevitably needed to confront. Subsequently, I began to have great self-doubt. Why was I writing this book, and for whom? Unbeknownst to me, Soth Polin, a Khmer novelist who is equally displaced and deracinated, provided an explanation for his inability to finish his writings on the Khmer Rouge experience; his words came back to haunt me. I had been living with great anxiety. The moral compass I used in navigating this moral predicament was unreliable, leaving me totally at a loss. Because I had published writings based on my own memories and experiences of living under the Khmer Rouge regime elsewhere,9 I thought I would be able to write “objectively” about the legacy of art and visual culture of this brutal regime. Instead, I found that self intersects with history and memory. Clearly, I cannot extricate myself from the history and memory of this brutal regime to assume the supposedly neutral position of a “scholar.” Indeed, one of the comments I have received from readers of my published writings on memory and trauma is that what I say is “very moving.” This seems to suggest that my writing is “too personal” and inhabits the realm of feelings and emotions rather than that of reason, argumentation, and intellect. I would like to
xii : Preface
think that I have structured my writings based on both arguments and emotions. In retrospect, however, embedded in these earlier writings are the traces and residues of my own trauma, pain, loss, and remembrance. Moreover, one of the roles the arts perform in culture and society is their ability to help us contain and transform our painful and emotional experiences of violence and trauma into aesthetics, especially arts that engage with issues of both individual and collective memories of genocide—a much needed emotional articulacy comparable to visual and verbal literacy. To this end, I have been trying to create through my writings, a language of pain, suffering, and healing expressible through the arts. Due to my moral aporia, I have come to realize that this ambivalence raises many questions and conflicting views; it is contrary to my initial quest to search for answers and resolution to both a personal and a collective subject. I have therefore decided to let you, gentle and critical readers, decide what is owed, and to whom, when you have finished reading this book. I would like to begin the book and close this preface by posing to both you and myself the following questions: What is the moral obligation of survivors (and perpetrators) to a tragedy of this magnitude? Are we all destined to relive the trauma of this horrific event for the rest of our lives? Will the next generation be burdened with this inherited trauma? Is it possible for survivors to forget and forgive? What role do the arts play in capturing this experience? Can they help to transcend and thus to heal this personal and collective trauma? Last, what are the potentials and limitations of the arts in their ability to answer these difficult questions?
This book can only attempt to answer the last three of these questions. Phnom Penh August 20, 2018
I am indebted to so many friends and colleagues for their help with the writing of this book. First, I would like to thank all the artists who shared their art and lives with me: Amy Lee Sanford, Chanthou Oeur (Chakra, O’Bon), Leang Seckon, Rithy Panh, Sophiline Cheam-Shapiro, Lê Huy Hoàng (Bopha Xorigia), Nguyen Manh Hung, Tran Luong, Nguyen Thi Tran, Thang Sothea, Both Sonrin, Vandy Rattana, Mak Remissa, Sarith Peou, and the late You Khin (1947–2009). Second, I would like to thank my colleagues and friends: Khatharya Um, Suppya Hélène Nut, Ang Choulean, Michel Antelme, Lim Sylvain, Lim Keo Piseth, Christine Hong, Tan Phong, Gema Guevara, Laurie Sears, Abidin Kusno, Nora Taylor, Donna Hunter, Tani Barlow, Angela Zito, Penny Edwards, John Thompson, Robin Clark, Eric Clark, Lee Venuti, Anders Jiras, Pha Lina, Youk Chhang, San Phalla, Chhay Visoth, Hang Nisay, Kho Chenda, Fleur Bourgeois, You Muoy, Ratsamy Vipakhone- Szafran, and Karen Tei Yamashita, my colleagues in the History of Art and Visual Culture Department at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for their support, Meredith Dyer and my advisee, Michelle Yee, for reminding me that I am Asian American. Third, I am grateful to the anonymous readers of the manuscript for their constructive comments and suggestions. At the University of Hawai‘i Press I would like to thank Debra Tang for her help with the preparation of this manuscript, Barbara Folsom for her copyediting, Linda Christian for creating the index, and to express my infinite gratitude to Pamela Kelley for her patience, compassion, and encouragement in seeing my manuscript through the process of publication. An additional thank-you to David Chandler for his patience and generosity in reading early drafts. Fourth, I would like to extend a heartfelt thank-you to my dear friend Mirren Theiding for her help with the editing and for reading numerous drafts of the book. I also want to thank Cheryl Loe, Stuart Robson, and Masako Ikeda for their help.
xiv : Acknowledgments
Last, I am very grateful to the Arts Research Institute (ARI) at the University of California, Santa Cruz, for its generous subvention grant to cover the cost of the book’s color plates. * * * * * Note: Throughout, Cambodian names are given in traditional order, surname first, except in cases of individual preference.
Traces of Trauma
The United States’ secret bombing of Cambodia in the years 1965–1973 had arguably aided members of the Kampuchea National Unification Front (communist in its ideology) who were hiding deep in the jungles of Cambodia.1 This political fact probably catapulted Saloth Sar (1925–1998), who later changed his name to Pol Pot, and his Khmer Rouge regime into power.2 Henry Kissinger, then secretary of state in President Richard Nixon’s administration, purportedly stated to the Thai foreign minister: “Tell the Cambodians that we would be friends with them. The Khmer Rouge are murderous thugs, but we won’t let that stand in our way.”3 Television footage dated April 30, 1970, captured President Nixon denying the fact that he had ordered the bombing: “This is not an invasion of Cambodia. The areas in which these attacks will be launched are completely occupied and controlled by North Vietnamese forces. Our purpose is not to occupy the areas. Once enemy forces are driven out of these sanctuaries and once their military supplies are destroyed, we will withdraw.”4 The bombing disrupted the lives of Cambodian farmers and compelled them to harvest their rice at night in the late 1960s when the United States further increased the number of bombs dropped by their B-52s, an action that led to an increase in the number of young villagers joining the resistance.5 In 1970, a coup d’état spearheaded by General Lon Nol (1913–1985) and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak (1914–1975), whose government was later supported by the United States, ousted Prince Norodom Sihanouk and put an end to the Cambodian monarchy. The Khmer Republic (1970–1975) was established in its place. A civil war ensued between the Communists (later known as Khmer Rouge), who allied themselves with North Vietnam, and the Khmer Republic, headed by General Lon Nol with the backing of the United States and the Republic of Vietnam. On April 17, 1975, the Khmer
2 : Introduction
Rouge regime put an end to the Khmer Republic that controlled the cities of Phnom Penh, Battambang, and a few other urban centers. Forty years have passed since the subsequent reign of terror, which lasted three years, eight months and twenty days, coming to an end on January 7, 1979, when Communist Vietnam invaded Cambodia. The horror began on April 17, 1975, when the Khmer Rouge entered the Cambodian capital, Phnom Penh, and evacuated its entire population, whom they considered to be the elite and thus tainted by capitalism. City dwellers were relocated to different regions of Cambodia, where they were forced to endure terrible conditions. Many were executed, and many more died from starvation, illness, forced labor, and worse; many were made to disappear without a trace, bequeathing a legacy of absence. Under the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, an estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died as a result of overwork, illness, malnutrition, and executions.6 Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979, leading to ten years of Vietnamese military occupation under the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (1979–1989). Thousands of survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge regime left the country for refugee camps located on the Thai-Cambodian border, and many emigrated to France, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and the United States, constituting the current Cambodian diaspora.
The Policy of Kamtech The Khmer Rouge leaders were implicated in many crimes, one of them being kamtech, a Khmer term that appears often in the Khmer Rouge Archive at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. According to Kaing Guek Eav (whose revolutionary name was Duch), chief of Tuol Sleng Prison, kamtech meant “to destroy and then to erase all trace: to reduce to dust.” 7 Kamtech was part of the Khmer Rouge agenda to systematically destroy any kind of individual identity in order to preserve the ideal notions of Angkar, the organization that embodied the political ideology of the revolution as a whole. The Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology evolved from 1975 to 1979, but its basic objective was to construct a classless agrarian society that advocated social equality, obedience, and uniformity. The metaphor of a machine is apt for describing this indivisible political ideology. A machine is comprised of many different units; the various parts must unite seamlessly in order for the machine to run smoothly; no one unit should be superior to another. Thus, any parts that did not contribute to the running of “the
Introduction : 3
machine” (in the Khmer Rouge context, the state) would be smashed to pieces and reduced to dust.8 Kamtech was more than a policy; it was an ideological mandate or task delegated by the Communist Party of Kampuchea (CPK) to crush any enemies of Angkar, thus leaving no traces of their identity, nor any memory of them. The traces that remain today in the archive of the Tuol Sleng interrogation center and other evidence were supposed to have been destroyed. Raphael Lemkin, who has written extensively on genocide and its aftermath, considers cultural extermination “cultural genocide.”9 I would argue that kamtech also applied to the arts created in the previous regimes, as they were considered products of impure capitalism and were thus marked for destruction. Indeed, the Khmer Rouge regime forbade the practice of all arts and religions associated with previous regimes. That said, however, there were inherent contradictions in the actual practice of kamtech. While the Khmer Rouge was committed to the elimination of all religious practices and the performing arts, especially those associated with previous regimes, they were, paradoxically, very accepting of the ancient and traditional arts and architecture of ancient Khmer monarchs. For instance, Pol Pot once said: “If our people can make Angkor, we can make anything.”10 Khmer Rouge leaders turned a blind eye to the abusive power of the ancient Angkorian monarchs and admired the sophisticated canal system that ancient Khmer laborers had built to facilitate the irrigation of rice fields. In addition, ancient Khmer temples such as Angkor Wat and the Royal Palace were used strategically by the regime as Kampuchean cultural attractions for special foreign guests. Furthermore, the Khmer Rouge did not destroy the national treasures belonging to the previous regimes in Cambodian history, such as the priceless collection of art at the National Museum, the ancient monuments, and the Royal Palace. Many of the former art institutions were simply abandoned, and the cultural or artistic practices associated with previous regimes were forbidden under the surveillance of the new regime. It was, however, the execution of artists and intellectuals that contributed to the inhumane suspension of individual and institutional cultural memory. It is the legacy of kamtech that this interruption in artistic activity caused great damage to the traditional court and the modern culture of Cambodia. Moreover, it was probably no coincidence that the date on which the Khmer Rouge invaded the city of Phnom Penh and put an end to the Khmer Republic was April 17, 1975, the last day of the Khmer New Year. It is perhaps useful to think of the Khmer Rouge implementation of a new ideology and cultural production as starting at “Year Zero,” as articulated by
4 : Introduction
Father François Ponchaud in his 1977 book Cambodia Year Zero.11 The Khmer Rouge, however, never used this term themselves. Likewise, although the word kamtech appears in the Khmer Rouge Archive, it is a post–Khmer Rouge elaboration and translation. I see these residues and conceptual traces of violence as portentous sites/sights/cites for the analysis of trauma, visual culture, and the body.
Traces of Trauma In 2018 Seth Mydans, a veteran journalist of Southeast Asia, wrote: “I had seen trauma before, but never an entire traumatized nation. All the adults I met were survivors or former killers.”12 This book analyzes the traces of trauma that remain from the US bombing of Cambodia, the civil war, and the Khmer Rouge genocide. The Khmer word snarm, meaning a scar from a wound that leaves an indelible mark on the body, also means traces, as in the traces left behind by a footprint.13 I would like to begin my discussion of traces of trauma and visual culture with a 2015 photograph taken by Mak Remissa, a Cambodian photojournalist and artist. At first view, it appears to show a series of bloody footprints found on the floor of a prison cell at Tuol Sleng, or “S-21,” a Khmer Rouge prison located in Phnom Penh. (Tuol Sleng was a high school before the Khmer Rouge converted it into a prison and interrogation center. In 1979 the Vietnamese invaders reconverted the prison into a “museum.”)14 In the photograph we see bloody footprints staining the yellow-and-white tiled floor of Room No. 4 in Building A at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (plate 1). Like many foreign tourists and Cambodian visitors to this museum, I too at first thought that these red footprints were a bloody residue left by prisoners, presumably Khmer Rouge officials who had been held in this room and later executed.15 However, a closer examination made in the company of my research assistant San Phalla, the director of the museum Chhay Visoth, and his staff, led us to tentatively conclude that these red footprints are those of the painters who repainted the walls of the room and inadvertently left their footprints on the floor.16 I use this image to problematize the ethics of the Cambodian genocide and what it means in terms of legibility when we attempt to identify footprints or traces of victims and perpetrators alike, to assess what we see using the binary of good and evil, and to make sense of the stories of those who survived and those who died.
Introduction : 5
A case in point is the report “Case 2 Closing Order,” published by the tribunal court or the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC). First, there were an estimated 12,273 detainees at Tuol Sleng prison between 1975 and 1979. Out of this total number, 5,609 were soldiers in the Revolution Army of Kampuchea, and 4,371 were cadres belonging to Communist Party of Kampuchea. If the facts and statistics of this report are correct, more than 80 percent of the detainees at Tuol Sleng prison had at some point supported or worked with the Khmer Rouge regime.17 Second, this makes the remaining 20 percent of prisoners detained at S-21 innocent victims. It is therefore impossible to discern whether the footprints in Room No. 4 were those of “innocent victims” or of people who once supported the regime, willingly or not, and carried out its policies. Last, it is possible and probable that the traces of these footprints were left by the wall painters. In brief, it is a great challenge to write about truth and reconciliation because representations are mediated by many unknowns. Indeed, many survivors of the Cambodian genocide find it difficult to accept the fact that large numbers of the perpetrators of violence during the Khmer Rouge regime are still living among them in Cambodia and the diaspora, many of whom have never been punished, while others even hold high administrative positions in the current Cambodian government. Survivors hesitate to testify in the tribunal court for fear that these former killers might harass and even assassinate them. Consider, for example, a woman who was a civil servant in one of the provinces before the Khmer Rouge regime came to power. She suffered tremendously under the regime and, when interviewed on Cambodian television about the tribunal court, stated: “In the past I was afraid I would be killed by the Khmer Rouge. Now journalists come to inter view me and I become worried. I am expecting warning phone messages. So I am afraid of being blackmailed or murdered by assassins. I can’t trust anyone because I don’t know who is who.”18 Her face and identity were concealed to protect her from harassment, if not assassination.19 This ethical and moral dilemma reminds one of what Theodor Adorno wrote in his 1955 essay “The Sociology of Knowledge and Its Consciousness” regarding a similar situation in post–Holocaust Germany: Cultural criticism finds itself faced with the final stage of the dialectic of culture and barbarisms. To write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric. And this corrodes even the knowledge of why it has become impossible to write poetry today. Absolute reification, which presupposed intellectual progress as one of its elements, is now preparing to absorb the mind entirely. Critical
6 : Introduction
intelligence cannot be equal to this challenge as long as it confines itself to self-satisfied contemplation.20
Indeed, how does one go on writing poetry or creating art without reifying the very barbaric culture that produced Auschwitz? Here, Adorno is addressing “poetry” not necessarily as genre but as poetics. That is, the subjective knowledge that ultimately defines humanity, according to Adorno, was forever altered by the atrocities and inhumanity of Auschwitz. I would argue that Adorno’s understanding of the Holocaust can be extended to other sites/sights of genocide. The post–Khmer Rouge Cambodian nation is forced to live with the knowledge that many of the perpetrators are still living among the survivors. Unlike the Holocaust in which the Germans committed genocide against Jews, in the Cambodian case the sense of betrayal, pain, and ethical predicament is exacerbated by the fact that the majority of the killers and perpetrators were ethnic Khmer who killed people of their own ethnic group. I concur with Martin Shaw that the term “auto-genocide,” defined as “the mass killing of members of the group to which the perpetrators themselves belong,”21 is highly problematic because the Khmer Rouge also murdered members of other ethnic groups such as the Sino-Khmers, Chams, and Vietnamese. While I agree with him that “auto-genocide” is not a completely accurate term because it excludes the diverse ethnic groups the Khmer Rouge were also targeting, it is still a matter of Khmers betraying Khmers. There is no direct correlation between the historical trauma in post– Holocaust Germany and that in post-genocide Cambodia. Clearly, the historical conditions that contributed to the killings in these two cases were very different. Nonetheless, I am drawn to the ethical and moral questions Adorno raises in relation to surviving in the post-genocide period. In fact, his writings, in a sense, frame my book, for he has inspired me to ask, “What strategies have Cambodians designed to help themselves go on living after the Khmer Rouge genocide?” Adorno was initially pessimistic about anyone’s capacity to write morally sound poetry after Auschwitz, but he changed his mind. In 1966 he wrote, in Negative Dialectics: There is no getting out of this, no more than out of the electrified barbed wire around the camps. Perennial suffering has as much right to expression as a tortured man has to scream; hence it may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to
Introduction : 7
raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living—especially whether one who escaped by accident, one who by rights should have been killed, may go on living. His mere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, with which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared. By way of atonement he will be plagued by dreams such as he is no longer living at all, that he was sent to the ovens in 1944 and his whole existence since has been imaginary, an emanation of the insane wish of a man killed twenty years earlier.22
Of course, Adorno was referring to Jewish lives and cultural imagination in the post-Holocaust period, but Cambodia shares a similar ethical conundrum in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide. In fact, Soth Polin, a well-known Cambodian novelist from the 1950s, concurred with Adorno’s concern: As I said before about the Khmer Rouge: you cannot get past it. You resuscitate a painful past, and you have to talk about it. You cannot pass over it. This is a lesson for humanity: not to let it happen again—that atrocity and that cruelty. Maybe this is why I cannot finish my writing: because of this story. Because of this, I lost my inspiration. Because the reality surpasses the imagination.23
The reality that traumatized Soth and thus prevented him from writing fiction resonated with the questions that Adorno raised about the future of writing poetry after Auschwitz. Society became unethical and amoral— innocence was lost, and only melancholia remained. In the case of Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge agenda of kamtech destroyed and erased not only the cultural memory of the nation but also its dignity. As an act of defiance, I have deliberately omitted “Khmer Rouge” from the title of my book to avoid reinscribing and empowering the name of this brutal regime. In critical terms, this book considers how a morally shattered culture and nation found ways to go on living after the civil war, the US bombing, and the Khmer Rouge genocide. I consider as “traces of trauma” the production of visual culture by contemporary Cambodian artists and photographers, filmmakers, court dancers, poets, and writers both in Cambodia and in the diaspora. These traces are the remains of an irrecoverable whole that lend themselves to a sustained study of trauma, visuality, and the body. The traces are fragmented, as are the acts of remembering and forgetting.
8 : Introduction
However, when they are analyzed in their historical and cultural contexts, coupled with local and cosmopolitan theory, these traces provide us with an understanding of culturally specific symptoms of trauma: broken body and spirit, pain, mourning, melancholia. These traumatic symptoms of the Cambodian nation and its diaspora contribute significantly to the reclamation of national identity. They need to be reconfigured after an atrocity of such magnitude as genocide. The visual examples considered in this book include ancient art, court dance, songs, films, and everyday material culture as well as contemporary art forms. However, the book is about visual culture in the local context, and thus it extends beyond contemporary Cambodian art. Local understanding of visual culture is inclusive of objects, images, and visuality that cut across different temporalities in the history of Cambodian arts and visual culture. Some readers may find my discussion of contemporary art along with court dance and stone carvings found on ancient Khmer temples to be broad and disparate, but as I demonstrate, this compartmentalization of art and temporality collapses in the Cambodian historical context. Indeed, there are great temporal and artistic interconnections between contemporary art and the traditional arts of Cambodia. Court dance, for example, is a ritual embodiment of the Cambodian nation and thus, unsurprisingly, was one of the first art forms to be revived in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, both at home and in the refugee camps. Contemporary art, in contrast, did not emerge in Cambodia until the early 1990s. For example, Neang Neak, the serpent princess who is the progenitor of the Khmer nation, has a deeply rooted story that is retold in the contemporary Khmer wedding ritual, court ritual, classical dances, carvings on ancient Khmer temples, and contemporary Khmer fashion, installation art, and film. In brief, the narrative and representations of the serpent princess can be read as a leitmotif that links the past, present, and future to embody the idea of the Cambodian nation at home and in the diasporas. In terms of territory and chronology, the modern Cambodian nation derived from the legacy of the ancient Khmer empire (802–1431 CE, if not earlier) and French colonialism (1863–1953).24 This Nation contains frag ments or nations of its own, including Kampuchea Krom, “lower Cambodia” (present-day southern Vietnam); Khmer Kandal, “the middle or center” (i.e., Phnom Penh, the current capital); Khmer Surin (present-day northeast Thailand); and Khmer Anikachon, the Cambodian diasporas around the world. Naturally, over the years national borders have continued to shift ac cording to politics. As an imagined community, however, the Cambodian
Introduction : 9
nation is arguably threaded together by a national language, Khmer, spoken by this dominant ethnic group. Moreover, as in all nations, the official language is spoken with different accents. More important, the Cambodian nation includes various ethnic minorities such as the Jorai, Kuy, Phnong, Khmer (Siamese) Thai, Khmer Chinese, Khmer Cham, Khmer ( yuon) Vietnamese, the Khmer lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex community (LGBTQI), and more. In brief, the Cambodian nation is constructed and defined under this broadly imagined community.25 It is incumbent upon me to draw visual examples from various historical and cultural moments. Such a diverse body of material requires an interdisciplinary approach, one that combines art history, visual studies, psychoanalysis, cultural studies, religion, and philosophy. For a theoretical framework, I reference and draw upon texts by Hal Foster, Nicholas Mirzoeff, Clifford Geertz, Sigmund Freud, Benedict Anderson, Stuart Hall, Frantz Fanon, and Paul Gilroy. As already noted, Adorno’s seminal questions regarding the ethics of writing poetry after Auschwitz significantly shaped how I imagined this book. Jacques Derrida’s concept of pharmakon provided a theoretical framework for my idea of the serpent as a metaphor for the trauma and the poison-cure. Last is my consideration of the power of artistic practice to aid in the analysis of how trauma manifests itself visually. I argue that creating art is a way of giving voice and visibility to Cambodian and diasporic Cambodian subjects and thus gaining access to a collective Cambodian understanding of trauma and visual culture. To this end, I examine at length the work of contemporary Cambodian artists and poets such as Amy Lee Sanford (née Ly Sundari), Rithy Panh, Vandy Rattana, Chanthou Oeur, and Sarith Peou as part of developing local theory. The interconnected themes of trauma, ideology and national identity, gender, sexuality, and the body weave through all five chapters of this book. The first two chapters provide local definition and a conceptualization of trauma and the body as seen through the eyes of Cambodian and diasporic Cambodian artists, poets, filmmakers, and writers. The other three chapters examine the reconfiguration and reclamation of national identity, ideology, and the body in the aftermath of the genocide. Chapter 1 examines the shortcomings of defining and theorizing trauma by using a Freudian model alone, arguing that it is necessary to couple it with local diagnoses, definitions, and concepts of trauma. Because this book focuses on accessing and articulating cultural differences in the interpretation of trauma, and particularly on how the arts shed light on our
10 : Introduction
understanding of trauma, meaning making, and culture, I turn to Clifford Geertz’s concept of culture in his The Interpretations of Cultures (1979), which he posits as essentially semiotic. In addition, I draw upon the writings of Chhim Sotheara, a Cambodian psychiatrist, who defines and character izes “trauma” in the Cambodian context as a cultural syndrome of distress that can be traced etymologically to a local concept of baksbat, a Khmer word that literally means “broken body or form” leading, in turn, to a state of “broken courage.” I subsequently provide a genealogy of trauma as viewed through the lens of two contemporary Cambodian visual artists, a film maker, and a poet from different generations—Amy Lee Sanford (née Ly Sundari), Both Sonrin, Rithy Panh, and Sarith Peou—and conclude with an analysis of Freud’s theory of melancholia and Chhim’s concept of baksbat. Chapter 2 considers the Khmer term snarm, literally “scars” or traces, as in the traces of an elephant’s footprints 26 and how it illuminates our understanding of trauma, pain, and resilience in the works of three contemporary Cambodian artists—Vandy Rattana, Leang Seckon, and Chanthou Oeur. In addition, I analyze the lyrics of a song sung by a “mad” Khmer man named Korb. Chapter 3 raises several overarching questions: if artists, arts, and culture belonging to the previous political regimes were considered products of capitalist ideology and thus subject to elimination under the ideology of kamtech, then what roles did art and visual images play in shaping Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology? What new ideas did Angkar, the faceless organization, inculcate in teenagers with impressionable young minds under Democratic Kampuchea? In the last section of the chapter, I suggest that the visual culture produced under the Khmer Rouge corresponds with what Walter Benjamin theorized as the politics of aesthetics under communism. I draw upon Benjamin’s theory on politics, aesthetics, and ideology under different political regimes as the underpinning of my analysis. Chapter 4 considers how Khmer national and cultural identity is reflected in the symbolism of the sugar palm tree and the krama (checkered scarf). It traces the origins of the krama as well as its linguistic etymology and cultural genealogy. It also defines and considers the idea of Cambodia as a nation and its identity as seen through the lens of visual culture produced in the post–Khmer Rouge period. Chapter 5 examines the tale of Nokor Kok Thlok, the founding myth of the Khmer kingdom. The legend tells of a serpent princess named Neang Neak, who is considered the mythic mother of the Khmer ethnic group. Unlike the krama, Neang Neak has always been associated with the Khmer
Introduction : 11
monarchy. I contend that the present-day reanimation of her story to promote nationalism and national identity at home and in the diaspora harks back to post-independence Cambodia (1954 to 1970) when the French colonial construct of the Khmer court evolved into a national art form to promote the emerging Cambodian nation.27 I also suggest that the matrilineal gender structure of Khmer culture might have contributed to the prevailing tale of Neang Neak as an embodiment of the Khmer kingdom and national identity in post-genocide Cambodia. As part of my discussion of the significance of this theme and national identity, I trace the origins of the story in ancient Khmer art and epigraphy. I then look at performances of contemporary court and wedding rituals that evoke her tale. I conclude the book by pointing out that, although the broken female body is a recurring trope of trauma, in my opinion a reading of the Cambodian female body as an allegory of a traumatized Cambodian nation is a faulty one, and discuss the reasons why.
Broken Body Situating Trauma in the Visual Cultures of Cambodia and Its Diaspora
Cambodia will not recover from what it has gone through for the next century. A hundred years from now, people will still see the mark of this disaster that Pol Pot put on Cambodia. —Richard Holbrooke, Former US Assistant Secretary of State1
I don’t like the overused word “trauma.” Today, every individual, every family has its trauma, whether large or small. In my case, it manifests itself as unending desolation; as ineradicable images, gestures no longer possible, silences that pursue me. —Rithy Panh, filmmaker2
I have discussed how the United States’ bombing of Cambodia aided the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime to power and, more important, how these two historical events created the political, economic, and social conditions for what has been called trauma in the visual cultures of Cambodia. It makes chronological sense to examine how the legacy of the US bombing has manifested itself in the arts of Cambodia and its diaspora, and to follow this with a discussion of the arts produced in the immediate aftermath of the Khmer Rouge period. My reasons for reversing this expected logic are twofold: first, I believe it is important to establish at the outset a definition and theory of trauma. Second, I argue that the graphic images of the skulls and bones of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime displayed at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum (also known by its Khmer Rouge code name S-21) in Phnom Penh—and found scattered at mass graves in the killing fields throughout Cambodia—have deflected attention away from the equally devastating scars on the land left behind by the American
Broken Body : 13
bombing. In addition, attention to the visual legacy of the bombing is usually focused on Laos, not Cambodia. This chapter addresses the shortcomings of defining and theorizing trauma using solely the Freudian model. In the case of Cambodia at least, it is necessary to couple Freudian theory with local diagnosis, definitions, and concepts of trauma. Thus, this book focuses on accessing and articulating cultural differences in the interpretation of trauma, particularly on how the arts shed light on our understanding of trauma, culture, and the search for meaning. To this end, I turn to Clifford Geertz’s seemingly dated approach to ethnography and his understanding of culture as the search for meanings: “The concept of culture I espouse . . . is essentially a semiotic one. Believing, with Max Weber, that man is an animal suspended in webs of significance he himself has spun, I take culture to be those webs, and the analysis of it to be therefore not an experimental science in search of law but an interpretive one in search of meaning.”3 In addition, I draw upon the writings of Chhim Sotheara, a Cambodian psychiatrist, who defines and characterizes “trauma” in the Cambodian context as a cultural syndrome of distress embodied by the local concept of baksbat.4 I subsequently provide a genealogy of trauma through an examination of the work of four Cambodian artists from different generations: Amy Lee Sanford (née Ly Sundari), Both Sonrin, Rithy Panh, and Sarith Peou, arguing that their work embodies baksbat and engages with a legacy of absence and mourning for an irreplaceable loss— that is, melancholia. The term “trauma” is overused in describing the experience of devastation and its affects and effects, especially as inscribed on the bodies and psyches of both the survivors and the perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge, as well as the subsequent generations of Cambodians who live in the homeland and in the diasporas of Europe, Australia, and North America. “Trauma” has evolved to comprise psychic wounds or injuries, although it was first used in the field of general medicine and was only later adopted in the fields of psychiatry and psychoanalysis.5 In his 1922 book Beyond the Pleasure Principle, Freud defined trauma as a form of psychic compulsion and repetition.6 Cathy Caruth, an expert on trauma and psychoanalysis, has further defined it as “the response to an unexpected or overwhelming violent event or events that are not fully grasped as they occur, but return later in repeated flashbacks, nightmares, and other repetitive phenomena.” 7 I have no intention of providing an in-depth theorization of trauma and psychoanalysis. A vast corpus of literature on the topic already exists.8 Instead, I would like to offer a more culturally sensitive definition of “trauma” in the Cambodian context.
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In her 2012 book The Generation of Post Memory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust, Marianne Hirsch shares an account of her search for a feminist genealogy of trauma: Recently, at a panel on memory studies in New York, a historian skeptical of the field’s rapid growth and widening reach outlined what he saw as its genealogy and named its “founding fathers”—Maurice Halbwachs, Pierre Nora, and Michel Foucault. Although these theorists are certainly foundational, this was neither my genealogy nor that of other feminists in the audience. Had one of us been asked for an origin story, we exclaimed during coffee break, we would have named Sigmund Freud and Melanie Klein, Virginia Woolf, Marcel Proust, and Toni Morrison, Hannah Arendt, Shoshana Felman, and Cathy Caruth. We would have gone back to the early days of feminist scholarship, especially to women’s history and its search for a usable past, and we would have discussed the political valences that, for us, inflected the field.9
As an ardent feminist and Cambodian-American writer, art historian, and scholar of visual culture, I appreciate Hirsch’s feminist critique of the malecentric voices in the study of memory and trauma advocated by this anony mous male historian. But these theorists do not speak to my genealogy, nor to that of other Cambodians in the homeland and the diaspora, although I admire them and draw on some of their work in this book. Forty years have passed since the Khmer Rouge were driven from power, but the bifurcated Cambodian nation (homeland and diaspora) is still recuperating from these traumatic events.10 Therefore, I cannot name Cam bodian theorists who have written about memory and trauma in ways that fit neatly into European and American definitions of theory and intellectual history. We do, however, have Cambodian and Southeast Asian historians, art historians, political scientists, anthropologists, artists, poets, writers, journalists, dancers, choreographers, and filmmakers whose lives have been deeply affected by the United States’ carpet bombing of Cambodia, the civil war, and the Khmer Rouge genocide. Instead of borrowing from or replicat ing hegemonic models of intellectual discourse on trauma, memory, and history, here I will provide a Cambodian genealogy of trauma. It is timely to establish a critical consciousness of how Cambodian and Cambodian diasporic subjects define, conceptualize, and articulate their experiences of trauma within and outside the space of the nation. To this end, I have looked
Broken Body : 15
at the traces of psychic wounds, scars, and the broken body in the work of artists, poets, and filmmakers living both in the homeland and abroad.11 I do not claim to offer a “pure and authentic” native Cambodian theory of trauma, but just to give voice and visuality, “the social fact of seeing,”12 to the Cambodian subjects who are either survivors or what Marianne Hirsch has called “the postmemory” generation13 of Cambodians—those who have inherited the trauma of the Khmer Rouge genocide from their parents. In short, I argue that it is necessary to reclaim culturally specific epistemological ways of knowing and understanding trauma. In her book The Buddha Is Hiding, Aihwa Ong pointed out the prob lems with diagnosing Cambodian refugees in the United States by using only psychiatric models and medications: Both the refugee clinic, with its conflicting goals of talking medicine, and the mental-health clinic, with its judgment of what constituted normal mourning and appropriate memory, provided the kind of treatment that allowed very limited opportunities for telling stories in a full and uncensored manner. Overall, since American medical settings constrain Khmer in expressing their own culture, Cambodian women sought catharsis through talking of past traumas only in the presence of sympathetic relatives and friends, whose community provided the cultural context for the experience of pain and healing. Traditional Cambodian therapies were community activities, reducing social isolation and strengthening social bonds. This collective approach to suffering and healing was in contrast to the Western biomedical and psychiatric focus on the afflicted individual, but it was nominally encouraged by physicians, who readily acknowledged the limits of their time, resources, and ability to heal the spiritually ill. Nevertheless, within clinic walls biomedical practitioners sought only the evidence of what they defined as the truth of particular experience conditions, and distrusted any aspect of the patient’s experience that might permit an alteration of the relationship doctors have with psychiatric logic. All games of power are games of truth, but not vice versa. So that there is always the possibility in a truth game for the discovery of alternative stories and truths.14
Indeed, it is important to listen to how “trauma” is locally defined, ex pressed, and culturally nuanced in Cambodia and in its diaspora. As already observed, Chhim Sotheara, a Cambodian psychiatrist, defines and charac terizes trauma in the Cambodian context as baksbat, or broken courage. In
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his 1952 Khmer dictionary, the late supreme patriarch Khmer monk the Venerable Chuon Nath provided the confirmatory etymology for the word baksbat: bak, meaning “break or broken” and sbat, meaning the “body or form.”15 The definition of baksbat is “a permanent break of body or form,” something that cannot be repaired. Chhim characterizes the syndrome of baksbat as “broken courage” and thinks that the terms “broken body” and “broken courage” better describe and challenge the “psychological-only models of disorder.” In the context of Cambodian culture, “broken form” and “broken body” lead to broken courage (i.e., a broken spirit or mind). Trauma is first and foremost inscribed on the body, and it is the broken body that causes mental breakdown. Traditional healers in Cambodia diagnose someone who has fear- related symptoms after experiencing terrifying situations as having bak sbat.16 Baksbat among Cambodian survivors of the genocide manifests itself as “survivors expressing their inability to trust others, while becoming more submissive, feeling more cowardly, becoming ‘bak’ (broken) or baksbat (broken courage), and being mute and deaf (dam doeum kor, or ‘planting a mute tree’).”17 Another term that Cambodians use to express their traumatic experiences is snarm; in Khmer snarm literally means “scar.” It can also be translated as “trace,” as in the traces of a footprint.18 These two terms, baksbat and snarm, are thus sites/sights of the definition and analysis of trauma in the Cambodian cultural context. In other words, symptoms of trauma in the Cambodian context manifest themselves in the body, and this physical duress causes the mind to break down. A theory of memory, trauma, and embodiment is therefore needed in order to unpack and represent the multiple and various articulations of trauma among Cambodian survivors and cultural producers living in Cambodia and the diaspora. To further our understanding of these diverse manifestations of trauma and the body, I find the following definition of memory and embodiment useful: Embodiment refers to being, to living through the body (Merleau-Ponty 1962). The body is pro-social (Levin 1991); it is the medium through which people experience their cultural world (Merleau-Ponty 1962: 146). The body is reflexive; it both initiates and responds. The world contributes to the constitution of the body (Dillon 1991: xv). People’s bodies, as sources of moral and political knowledge, are capable of generating categories of social analysis; people are able to ground their resistance to the power of cultural norms in bodily experience (Levin 1991). The body can be seen as the locus of social
Broken Body : 17
practice (Bourdieu 1977, 1984, 1990), and embodiment as relevant to social collectivities (Csordas 1993, 1994b). Bodily practices enact the past and thus serve to embody cultural memory (Connerton 1989:72).19
Indeed, Cambodian survivors of the genocide tend to use words like “broken” or “shattered” to describe their experiences of trauma in the aftermath of the genocide. For instance, Chhang Youk, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia in Phnom Penh, has said: “After twentyfive years people are still asking the same questions . . . we deserve justice as human beings. Victims are just like a glass that has dropped on the floor and broken, and you try to glue it back together. That’s what we are, broken people living in a broken society.”20 Likewise, Leng Hoeun, a shadow-play master, found it a challenge to rebuild the arts after the Khmer Rouge’s destruction of his traditional art form. He said in an interview: “It is comparable to a broken dish; it shattered into many pieces and disappeared into different places and in all directions. Therefore, it is very difficult to find and gather together all these fragments and assemble them to produce a whole and original dish.”21 Clearly, unlike the Freudian-derived theory of trauma that defines trauma as a psychic wound, the Cambodian definition points to an experience of a broken body comparable to a broken pot that, in turn, produces the affect and effect of broken courage (loss of strength to persevere). More important, once this body is broken, it cannot be mended. The Cambodian artists and their works discussed in this chapter are not meant to provide an exhaustive study of contemporary Cambodian art and trauma, but rather to present a few apt case studies and representations pertinent to this particular discussion of trauma in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide. It would be impossible to provide an inclusive and “accurate” representation of all perspectives of survivors and perpetrators of the Khmer Rouge genocide, but I would like to take a cue from the Cambodian-French filmmaker, Rithy Panh, who once noted: “At Preah Sihanouk Hospital in Phnom Penh, the only department that provides psychiatric treatment takes patients from all over the country. Sometimes there are 250 of them waiting in the corridor. You only have to see how many are depressive and destitute to realize something must be done. There is a massive collective wound.”22 No matter how it is viewed, this “massive collective wound” needs to be addressed. The psychoanalytic understanding of trauma can foster a return to the collective through the individual, as Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman pointed out in their coauthored book, Empire of Trauma.23 In sum, it is through the work of these selected individual
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artists that we shall come to see how the wounds, scars, and broken bodies of the Cambodian nation and its diaspora are visually rendered and given a voice.
Sarith Peou One of the most poignant traumatic scars left by the civil war and the Khmer Rouge genocide can be found in a collection of poems titled Corpse Watching, written by Cambodian-American poet Sarith Peou. Peou was born in Cambodia in 1962; he fled to a refugee camp in Thailand in 1982 and resettled in Southern California in 1987.24 In 1993, he moved to Saint Paul, Minnesota, where he struggled to make ends meet after losing his job. In July 1996, he engaged in a heated argument with the Cambodian-born owners of a jewelry store in Saint Paul where Peou had pawned a diamond ring for cash. According to court documents, Peou stabbed the couple to death inside the store. He was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, where he writes poetry and works on his autobiography.25 One of the poems from Peou’s Corpse Watching is titled “Scars” and sheds tremendous light on how memory evokes the trauma inscribed into the poet’s body from the years he spent in the Khmer Rouge labor camp: While we starve In short pants and bare feet. We grind stones with hammers. The sharp chips target our legs and feet. Our cuts become infected. We received no useful treatment. Angkar takes pleasure in our pain. If we don’t report to work, They order us to have our wounds cleaned. Their untrained nurses mutilate our wounds with sticks. We are all cleansed with the same bucket of boiled, tamarind leaves Our wounds are sprinkled with human ashes. Many of us contract hepatitis While working, our wounds open and bleed. Flies swarm at us like dead bodies.
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One hand works the hammer; One hand swats at flies in our wounds. The flies suck blood and pus. The flies lay eggs in our open sores. Our wounds are infested with maggots. When our wounds widen, We call them craters: T-28, F-11, or B-52 Based on size and depth. My B-52 didn’t heal until the Khmer Rouge fell, When we had enough food to eat.26 The visual description of rotten open wounds infested with maggots on a body weakened by malnutrition is so vivid that readers can almost smell the infested wounds; the humid weather of the tropics slows down the healing process. The poet compares the open wounds on his body to bomb craters hidden away among the emerald-green rice fields. Moreover, he labels the size and depth of his wounds respectively as T-28, F-11, and B-52. Indeed, the lingering experience of trauma, inscribed on the poet’s “broken body,” resulted from the forced labor he was subjected to as a young man in the late 1970s. In the confinement of his prison cell in Minnesota, Peou began to remember; there he had the time to reflect and recollect his traumatic past. Elaine Scarry has described such recollection as finding narrative space for pain: “Physical pain has no voice, but when it at last finds a voice, it begins to tell a story.”27 The very title Corpse Watching points to the centrality of both the living and the dead body as sites of memory and lingering trauma. This corroborates what Chhim Sotheara diagnosed as a “broken form or body.” The last verse of the poem, which provides the title for the collection, shows how the traumatized living body and mind of the poet confront his memory of watching the lifeless bodies: Corpse watching provides excitement. Corpse watching is filled with fear. The corpses are someone’s father, brother, sister, mother—Sometimes corpse watching brings tears. The word “corpse” suggests that the dead bodies are survivors of wars, genocides, and other atrocities. Survivors of atrocities of great magnitude often
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claim that they are the living dead—haunted by the memory of their past trauma. For example, Rithy Panh commented: “When you survive a genocide, it’s like you’ve been radiated by a nuclear bomb. It’s like you’ve been killed once already, and you come back with death inside of you.”28 As Becker et al., pointed out, the body is both the site and sight of trauma and remembrance: Because many survivors of the Cambodian genocide were either beaten, tortured, forced into slave labor, or were witness to the death or harm of loved ones, their traumatic memories are lived, first and foremost, through the body. Trauma violates bodily knowledge, and in doing so, renders the world unknowable. Notions of self and world are thrown into disarray as trauma permeates the known and familiar uncertainty and fear, making the body itself alien and unfamiliar. Embodiment is thus the starting point for the understanding [of] how people attempt to manage traumatic memories. Embodiment is the existential condition in which culture and self are grounded. . . . Memory is embodied. It emanates from bodily experience that enacts the past. Memory is not simply a personal, subjective experience. It is socially constructed and present oriented, and thus reconfigures experience.29
Amy Lee Sanford The persistent temporality of trauma and its inscription on the “broken form or body” resonates powerfully with the life and works of Amy Lee Sanford (née Ly Sundari), a Cambodian American visual and performance artist who divides her time between Cambodia and New York. Her works have been exhibited internationally, including venues in New York, Hong Kong, Berlin, Phnom Penh, Seoul, and Melbourne. Born in Phnom Penh in 1972, she emigrated to the United States at the age of two and a half and grew up in the suburbs of Boston, living with an adopted American family. She studied chemical engineering, biology, and the visual arts at Brown University.30 Sanford’s works are embodiments of “post memory” trauma, the broken body, displacement, and the legacy of absence. Sanford’s biological father, Ly Kim Long, was dean of the Faculty of Letters and Sciences at the Royal University of Phnom Penh. He was born in Kompong Chhnang, a province located ninety-one kilometers north of Phnom Penh. Kompong Chhnang literally means “Port of Pottery” in
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Khmer. This area is well known for producing the best handmade earthenware in Cambodia. Sanford grew up in the United States thinking that all her relatives in Cambodia were dead, but like many adoptees she was persistent in searching for news of her biological family: “From 1975 to 2004, I had lived with the notion that I was the only surviving member of my blood family. After years of searching, I discovered in 2004 that I had some relatives who survived: one paternal uncle and some cousins.”31 Between 1965 and 1973, the United States bombed Cambodia and also backed the anti-Vietnamese Khmer Republic that was established in 1970. The political situation in Cambodia was very unstable. When the Khmer Rouge troops took over Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975, putting an end to the Khmer Republic, they considered Sanford’s father one of the educated elite. As such he was targeted and killed in Udong, a town outside of Phnom Penh, in 1975.32 In 2005 Amy Lee Sanford returned to Cambodia for the first time since her departure at the early age of thirty months. She visited her father’s village in Kompong Chhnang and met some of her relatives. Subsequently, she decided to return to live in Cambodia in order to experience her country of birth. As she put it, “I needed to go backward in order to move forward.”33 While living in Cambodia in 2010, Sanford created an installation titled Broken that demonstrates an apt choice of artistic material and conceptual design. Broken is comprised of thirty layers of shattered glass sheets that invite viewers to think about the Cambodian concept and metaphor for trauma, focusing on the broken body or shattered form rather than the psychic wounds alone (plate 2). The artist shared with me her ideas behind Broken: I made Broken after my first year of living in Cambodia as an adult. I decided to make a piece that reflected upon my first year’s impressions. Broken, which is made up of neatly stacked square pieces of plate glass, which have been individually shattered then reassembled to its original configuration (as best as possible, but of course, it is never the same), embodies the feeling I experienced during my first year back in Cambodia. The people and land are functioning as best they can, despite having been shattered. Many people have put some of their shards back together, into a semblance of functionality. The viewer can look into the stack of glass and see the cracks and repairs of each layer.34
Thus, Broken is a physical embodiment of the Cambodian nation in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, a shattered society with many
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layers. Despite the violent interruption, life in Cambodia continues to sustain its daily momentum, but it is undeniably evident that the country is a broken society that might be beyond repair. It could be mended, but the scars will remain. The message embedded in Broken underscores what Youk Chhang has described: “More than thirty years after the Khmer Rouge genocide, Cambodia remains a fragile, broken society as a nation. You drop a glass on the floor. It is broken.” Sanford continued to address the theme of trauma and the broken body in her powerful 2012 installation and performance Full Circle. It was created to mark her fortieth birthday and was exhibited at Metahouse, an established art gallery in Phnom Penh. As Sanford turned forty in 2012, she used forty clay pots that she brought back from her father’s village. With each pot representing one year in her life, she arranged them in a circle. The performance lasted six days (March 13 to March 18).35 It began with the artist dressed in black sitting in the center of the circle. She would take one of the pots, stand up, and drop it on the ground. The pot would shatter into pieces. She would pick up the fragments, glue them back together, and so restore the broken pot. She repeated this meditative and laborious process until she had mended all forty pots. The performance expressed endurance and the willpower to sustain this repetitive ritual, comparable to restoring a traumatized and broken body. Full Circle embodies an individual’s and all Cambodians’ physical and psychic wounds and is culturally legible by ordinary Cambodians. First, the artist’s choice of materials—earth and clay—literally represent her homeland. Second, these clay pots are traditionally used in Cambodian villages to carry and store water for drinking. In Khmer, the homeland is referred to as Teuk dei khnom (lit. My Water and Land); it is no use having land without water, and vice versa. Third, these clay pots are called kaom in Khmer, a word with a double meaning: the clay pot for carrying water and the uterus. In fact, there is a Khmer saying: “She laughed so hard that she broke her pot,” meaning that she laughed so hard she urinated in her skirt. A Khmer pop song from 1974 written by Voy Ho is titled Baek Kaom Oun heuy (literally meaning “My water pot is broken!”). Ros Sereysothea, a well-known performer who perished during the Khmer Rouge genocide, made the song famous.36 Voy Ho’s erotic lyrics are metaphorical: My pot is broken. The water has entered my pot. Now I am afraid to enter the house.
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I am so regretful that you broke my water pot. Mother, please don’t yell at me now that my water pot is broken. Please don’t be angry and take legal action against him. Now that your daughter’s pot is broken, please don’t tell father this news.37 The broken pot is a Khmer euphemism for the loss of virginity. Even now Cambodians dance the ramvong (circle dance) to this song at weddings and in restaurants and clubs in the homeland and in the diaspora. In brief, the clay pots used by Sanford in Full Circle are both vessels and symbols of female sexuality. Thus they are culturally recognizable to Khmers from all social classes. More significant, the labor-intensive process necessary to mend each broken pot dovetails with Chhim Sotheara’s definition of trauma as baksbat. Sanford shared her intention behind Full Circle in an interview: “[The pots] can be seen as symbolic of the trauma that Cambodia, individu ally, has endured, [but is] not limited to that. They’re also representative of the process of change . . . how quickly situations can change, and how labor intensive it is to repair [the damage caused by trauma].”38 The pots, moreover, can be read both as wombs and wounds—possibilities of life-giving and life ending. Full Circle as an installation and performance has evolved since Sanford first performed it in Phnom Penh in 2012. She has taken new sets of pots and installed them in galleries and conference venues in the United States and Australia, where she repeats the performance of the simple and yet profound act of breaking and restoring the pots. However, in the most recent version of her performance of Full Circle, she used white cotton strings to secure the mended pots (plate 3). White cotton string has many symbolic meanings in Cambodian animist and Buddhist rituals. Cambodians believe that each person has nineteen pralungs (vital spirits) that animate the human body. In his detailed ethnographic study of the concept of pralungs, the Cambodian anthropologist Choulean Ang elaborated: “It is difficult to understand what these pralungs really are; their chief characteristic is their fragility. Through the smallest unusual occurrence or event, some of the pralung can leave the body, thus causing the person to become ill. The symptom of this illness is not clear. A person who is said to have lost some of their pralung feels exhausted, vacillates between sickness and health, and generally has little of the strength and energy of those with full possession of their pralungs.”39 Cambodians believe that medication cannot cure this illness: a ritual of
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calling the pralungs back to the body needs to be performed. One of these rituals involves a villager journeying at night into the forest with a clay pot and a ladle and waving the ladle in the air to call the pralungs back to the pot. The villager then brings the pot filled with the pralungs back to their owner’s body. A white cotton thread immersed in a bowl of sanctified water is tied around the right wrist of the individual after the nineteen pralungs have returned to his/her body.40 Tying a white cotton string around the right wrist suggests that this is where the vital pulse can be detected. It is important to tie these vulnerable vital spirits to the body so that they cannot easily escape. Nevertheless, due to their fragility, the pralungs will inevitably escape the body again. In short, the mended broken pots and the white strings Sanford used to secure the fragments of the shattered pots in Full Circle reinforce the local traumatic symptom of baksbat. As already observed, baksbat also means “broken courage.” This traumatic mental and physical breakdown is attributed to the loss of a few of the nineteen pralungs in the body. It is clear that both Sanford’s use of local materials and her understanding of local rituals make Full Circle culturally understandable to Khmers. Moreover, her approach to creating art that embodies trauma, coupled with the intersection between her personal experience and the history of Cambodia, makes this installation and performance one of the most culturally sensitive artistic embodiments of trauma in contemporary Cambodian art. Not surprisingly, Full Circle won the Performance Studies International Enrichment Bursary Award in 2013. Clearly, Sanford’s works are about embodiments of displacement, trauma, and what Marianne Hirsch has called the “postmemory” generation [that] describes the relationship that the “generation after” bears to the personal, collective, and cultural trauma of those who came before—to experiences they “remember” only by means of the stories, images, and behaviors among which they grew up. But these experiences were transmitted to them in their own right. Post memory’s connection to the past is thus actually mediated not by recall but by imaginative investment, projection, and creation. To grow up with overwhelming inherited memories, to be dominated by narratives that preceded one’s birth or one’s consciousness, is to risk having one’s own life stories displaced, even evacuated, by our ancestor. It is to be shaped, however, indirectly, by traumatic fragments of events that still defy narrative reconstruction and exceed comprehension. These events happened in the past, but their effects continued into the present.41
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Sanford’s biography only partly fits Hirsch’s concept of “postmemory,” because she was born in 1972 and arrived in the United States at the age of two and a half. More important, memories of her childhood can be easily triggered. A case in point is an incident that the artist shared with me when detailing what happened to her at one of the musical performances as part of the Season of Cambodia Festival in New York City in April 2013. In an e-mail message she related: “[Master Mek] played a lullaby, I started tearing up, then crying really hard—recognizing it as a trauma reaction.”42 Khmer mothers sing lullabies to their babies, and Khmer master musician Mek’s song that evening released a long-buried childhood memory. I also find Hirsch’s theorization of “postmemory” useful in explaining how Sanford inherited trauma from reading letters her father had written between 1968 and 1974 to her adoptive mother, Barbara Sanford. These letters were neither addressed to nor intended for her, but her mother bequeathed them to her after she passed away. More important, the letters enabled her to develop an epistolary relationship with her late biological father. From these personal letters she was able to form a picture of her father as a human being through reading his own words about his worries, anxieties, and preoccupations, as well as his quotidian concerns in a rapidly changing, politically unstable Cambodia. For instance, he reported on the bombing of Cambodia, “three hundred rockets fell on the city of Phnom Penh between November 1973 and January 1974.”43 Sanford’s knowledge of her father’s life and death ceased after that point in time. This temporal interruption and suspension of time in kinship and family relations is part of the collective legacy of absence that many Cambodians who survived the Khmer Rouge genocide share: this absence of loved ones who disappeared under the regime and no knowledge of whether they are alive or dead. I define the legacy of absence as the haunting state of longing and grieving for the irretrievable loss of loved ones. It was her need to engage in a dialogue with this legacy of absence that compelled Sanford to create an installation titled Suspended in 2006 (at Laconia Gallery, Boston, Massachusetts, May 5 to July 29). It consists of fifty letters the artist wrote to her father.44 The letters are meticulously stamped onto copper foil. This was clearly a labor-intensive process, but Sanford was determined to carry it out because she wanted to find a way to insert herself into the epistolary exchanges that took place between her late father and her adopted mother. In one of our e-mail exchanges Sanford wrote:
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I felt the urge to respond to his words, his thoughts. Recording the words by pen and paper felt too direct. Instead, I chose to create a layer between myself and the words, and thus the process of pounding metal letter stamps onto copper foil began. The process is inherently laborious and slow. I wanted the process of recording my thoughts for this impossible conversation to be slow. It felt as if I was breathing life into the gears of a once efficient but now rusted machine. A machine that had been sitting silent, still, dormant, for a great many years, and now, one by one, my words began to remove rust off the gears, freeing them and allowing some movement.
The result was a spectacular installation of cage-like structures made of twisting and swirling copper wires that enclosed and protected each one of the fifty hand-stamped letters on copper foil (plate 4). Each one of these letters contained thoughts and ideas that Sanford wished to transmit to her father’s spirit,45 and each one of them was suspended from the ceiling of the gallery space at Laconia. Moreover, the artist intended each individual, caged letter to be likened to “an atom’s electron paths, swirling around its nucleus. These ‘atoms,’ hung at different heights with monofilament, appear suspended in the gallery [plate 5]. Seen collectively, they can appear as individual atoms, or larger planetary bodies in space, perhaps ideas floating in a universe.”46 Again, here we see that Sanford’s choice of material helps to contain her concept. In this case, she chose copper because it is a material known to conduct electrical energy. According to the artist, “conceptually thought can be considered a form of energy.”47 She wanted to communicate her ideas with her father’s spirit across time and space.48 Sanford’s electrical engineering academic training gave her the knowledge necessary for the insightful choice of material for this installation. The title of the installation, Suspended, describes not only the suspension of epistolary time but, more important, the gap in Sanford’s knowledge of her father’s life. As we know, he sent her away to be adopted at the age of thirty months, and she knew him only through the letters he wrote to her adoptive mother. Even though she inherited them, she inhabits the uneasy position of one who has purloined the letters, which are windows into her biological father’s world. Suspended is also about survivor’s guilt: Sanford escaped the bloody genocide, but her father was killed in April 1975. These facts left her broken, and it seems that the artist has been spending her artistic career mending and restoring her broken sense of self and cultural identity. Furthermore, like many Cambodians whose family members perished in the genocide, she too is compelled to live with this legacy of absence, a
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haunting state of longing and grieving the loss of loved ones. It is this intersection between herself and the collective history, trauma, and memory of Cambodia that makes Sanford’s works so poignant and powerful.
Rithy Panh Likewise, the Cambodian French filmmaker Rithy Panh similarly addressed issues of memory, trauma, loss, mourning, and the body in his Oscar-nominated 2014 autobiographical film, The Missing Picture, loosely based on his memoir.49 Panh was born in Phnom Penh in 1964, so he is nearly a decade older than Amy Lee Sanford. He survived the Khmer Rouge genocide, but his parents and several siblings perished in it. In 1979 he left for the refugee camps located on the border between Thailand and Cambodia and emigrated to France in the same year. While attending a vocational school in Paris to acquire skills in carpentry, he was given a video camera. He subsequently discovered his talent and love for filmmaking. He attended the L’Institut des hautes études cinématographiques in Paris and acquired a degree in filmmaking. He returned to Cambodia in 1990 and since then has been dividing his time between Phnom Penh and Paris.50 Panh is one of the most prolific and important Cambodian filmmakers today. He founded Bophana, a film archive and education center for the preservation of Cambodian films located in Phnom Penh.51 Not surprisingly, he was the first Cambodian to receive the International Documentary for Preservation and Scholarship award in December 2014.52 Panh has been helping to foster the next generation of Cambodian filmmakers and has directed over sixteen films, most notably: Rice People (1994); One Night after the War (1998); The Land of Wandering Souls (2000); S-21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (2003); Burnt Theater (2005); and The Sea Wall (2008). Panh has spent the last two decades of his life making films that address social and political issues in Cambodia, especially the legacy of the Khmer Rouge genocide and how it destroyed the film and artistic archive belonging to the previous regime. Not surprisingly, he was the recipient of the Fajr Peace Award at the Fajr Film Festival in Teheran, Iran, in April 2018 for the prevailing theme that he addressed in many of his films, social justice.53 The Missing Picture is a film that focuses on Panh’s own traumatic past. We know from the voice-over (of French-Cambodian actor and playwright Jean Baptiste Phou) that Panh created The Missing Picture in part to mark his fiftieth birthday: “In the middle of life, childhood returns, the water is sweet
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and bitter. I seek my childhood like a lost picture, or rather it seeks me. Is it because I am fifty, because I have seen troubled times when fear alternates with hope? The memory is there. Now pounding at my temples, I would like to be rid of it.”54 As is true for other survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide, there is no magic pill one can take to get rid of the bad memories of a traumatic past. Panh was eleven years old when the Khmer Rouge took over the city of his birth, so he remembers more than he wants to. As he wrote: “I live with memories of my relatives, with anxiety—the certainty—that the same tragic story will repeat itself. It was burned into my flesh forever, as if with a branding iron, that this is what the world is like: a place where there’s a lot of indifference, hypocrisy and little compassion.”55 The Missing Picture explores the theme of eyewitnessing, memory, trauma, and Panh’s search for what he has called “the missing picture” to fill in the lacunae. I would argue that this “missing picture” is part of the legacy of absence. One of the many examples that Panh identifies as “the missing picture” is the Khmer Rouge’s evacuation of the residents of Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. We have only a few photographs taken by the French journalist and photographer Roland Neveu of this chaotic and traumatic day. Indeed, apart from Neveu’s photographs, photographic images and film footage capturing the dramatic moment when soldiers of the Khmer Rouge entered the city of Phnom Penh and forced the evacuation of its residents do not exist. As a French citizen, Neveu was protected by the French Embassy. Moreover, he had a return air ticket back to France, but the airport was closed, so he was compelled to take the land route to Thailand. He managed to hide a few rolls of film from the Khmer Rouge soldiers.56 His photographs show them enter ing the city with their tanks and a crowd of hundreds of people, carrying very few of their belongings, spilling into the streets, heading in unknown direc tions and to unknown places. These are the last images we have of the fall of Phnom Penh when all the inhabitants of the city were sent to labor and death camps. In retrospect, the events and people captured in Neveu’s still photo graphs are like a fade-out in a film: they just disappeared. As mentioned, Panh was forced to leave his home along with his family in Phnom Penh at the age of eleven. His entire family died, and he returned to the city alone in 1979 when the genocide came to an end. To this day, the director is haunted by his childhood memories and the deaths of his family members as well as the harsh living conditions he had to endure in order to survive under the Khmer Rouge regime. As a result, Panh suffers from insomnia connected to his childhood nightmares.57
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Similarly to Amy Lee Sanford’s embodiment of trauma in her clay pots made of the essential elements earth, water, and fire, Panh also features these elements as the body and site/sight of memory and trauma, but from a filmic perspective. The Missing Picture is about the potentialities and limitations of film as a medium for capturing and exploring the idea of eyewitnessing the genocide, especially when there is a gap in the visual archive. Panh is a versatile filmmaker who has directed both documentary and feature films. He decided to narrate the story of The Missing Picture through the lens of his childhood in Cambodia, when he would mold toys such as cars and human and animal figurines out of clay. It is important to note here that the young narrator uses the present tense—“I am thirteen”—when referring to the past.58 The Missing Picture offers an extremely innovative approach to autobiographical films. First, Panh understands the role that memory plays in remembering and forgetting, especially from the perspective of a thirteen-year-old boy. Second, Panh’s assistant, named Sarith Manh, who is younger than Panh, shares his memories of a similar childhood experience of playing with handmade clay toys. Indeed, many poor children who could not afford to buy toys would make them out of clay. For the film, Panh asked Manh to create a clay figure portrait of Panh himself as a young boy. The idea of children playing with toys as a narrative device for his memoir was most apt for Panh’s vision for his film. Subsequently, Sarith Manh created all the clay sculptures of characters and the set for The Missing Picture.59 The narrative structure of the film alternates between film footage produced by the Khmer Rouge as propaganda and the narrative of Panh’s life under the regime enacted by miniature clay figurines. The film begins with images of a dusty old film archive, followed by a clip of Princess Norodom Buppha Devi dancing a Buong Suong, a propitiation dance that was filmed in 1965. It is followed by blurred moving images of Apsara dancers who fade out. The Apsara dance is a court dance invented by Queen Kossamak Neariroth in 1964 for her granddaughter, Princess Buppha Devi.60 Suddenly, we see the emergence of clear and sharp images of moving water in a river—strong waves crashing against the lens of the camera. We next see Manh’s hands sculpting a human figure from soft clay (earth and water). The artist painted the figure as wearing a white suit and a black tie. In a voice-over spoken by Jean Baptiste Phou, the narrator tells us that “With clay and with water, with the dead, with rice fields, with living hands, a man is made. . . . It doesn’t take much, it just takes will. His suit is white, his tie is dark, I want to hold him close, he is my father.”61 Comparably to Sanford’s clay water pots that stand for Khmer broken
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bodies, Panh gives filmic resurrection to his late father, Panh Lauv, who died during the genocide. The narrative structure in The Missing Picture alternates between Khmer Rouge black-and-white propagandistic film footage and Panh’s memoir narrated by the voice of Phou and Manh’s painted clay figurines, stand-ins for living actors. The narrator also provides viewers with his insights and analyses of the revolutionary ideology behind the Khmer Rouge regime. The black-and-white footage captures moving images of young and old Khmer Rouge revolutionaries wearing black pajamas and kramas (scarves), the mandatory Khmer Rouge uniform. They are engaged in communal labor such as building dams, digging canals, and rice farming. These idealized revolutionary images helped promote the Khmer Rouge political agenda.62 Suffice it to say here that, according to Panh, Khmer Rouge film footage gives visibility to revolutionary ideals of an agrarian society based on collective labor and social equality under Democratic Kampuchea. Indeed, these revolutionary ideals exist only in film because, as Panh put it, “A Khmer Rouge film is always a slogan.”63 These Khmer Rouge film images—juxtaposed with Panh’s recollection of his family members’ ordeals and subsequent deaths under the Khmer Rouge regime—provide us with both a visual articulation of a political ideology and a personal perspective on life under Democratic Kampuchea. The Missing Picture is Panh’s remembrance of and mourning for the loss of his family. It is also a requiem for the Cambodian nation. Unlike the Khmer Rouge film footage that Panh and his team were able to excavate from the archive, the stories of his family and of many other Cambodians who perished have found no place in an archive except in the intangible and visceral memories of survivors. With the use of water and earth, Manh’s sculptures provide substitute bodies for the dead characters in Panh’s memoir. Ultimately, as a filmmaker, Panh is interested in how film as a medium can help to fill in this “missing picture”—this legacy of absence. He spent almost two decades of his life researching and excavating the Khmer Rouge photographic and film archive. Through interviews and reenactment, he filmed the strategies and tactics employed by Khmer Rouge leaders and perpetrators in carrying out their interrogations, torture, and executions in the name of ideology. As previously noted, The Missing Picture is Panh’s exploration and questioning of the potentials and limitations of film as a medium to represent memory and trauma. This resonates with what Walter Benjamin wrote in his 1936 essay, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”:
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How does the cameraman compare with the painter? To answer this we take recourse to an analogy with a surgical operation. The surgeon represents the polar opposite of the magician. The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body. The magician maintains the natural distance between the patient and himself; though he reduces it very slightly by the laying on of hands, he greatly increases it by virtue of his authority. The surgeon does exactly the reverse; he greatly diminishes the distance between himself and the patient by penetrating into the patient’s body, and increases it but little by the caution with which his hand moves among the organs. In short, in contrast to the magician—who is still hidden in the medical practitioner—the surgeon at the decisive moment abstains from facing the patient man to man; rather, it is through the operation that he penetrates into him. Magician and surgeon compare to painter and cameraman. The painter maintains in his work a natural distance from reality, the cameraman penetrates deeply into its web. There is a tremendous difference between the pictures they obtain. That of the painter is a total one, that of the cameraman consists of multiple fragments, which are assembled under a new law. Thus, for contemporary man the representation of reality by the film is incomparably more significant than that of the painter, since it offers, precisely because of the thorough going permeation of reality with mechanical equipment, an aspect of reality which is free of all equipment. And that is what one is entitled to ask from a work of art.64
Manh’s hand-painted sculptures provide three-dimensional bodies for the human characters, and thus the artistic illusion. However, it is Panh, the filmmaker, who excavated the Khmer Rouge film archive, examined the various components that made up its visual apparatus, and reassembled fragments to shed light on the intention behind the Khmer Rouge political ideology and revolution. Panh’s approach to The Missing Picture fits Benjamin’s metaphor of the filmmaker as a surgeon who dissects in order to look closely at the internal parts that made up the social structure. There is, however, a unifying structure to Panh’s weaving and reassembling of old Khmer Rouge film fragments and his memoir. The Missing Picture begins with shots of water crashing against the lens of the camera and the hand-carved portrait of Panh’s father out of clay; the narrator tells us that, at the age of fifty, his traumatic past has returned to haunt him. This unifying narrative structure in the film might be attributed to Panh’s search for wholeness, a survivor’s need to reassemble the shattered pieces of his life.
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The film ends with black-and-white Khmer Rouge film footage showing a line of children balancing two baskets of dirt on each end of a pole carried over their shoulders, their share of the labor in the digging of an irrigation canal. This black-and-white film footage is projected onto a still image of the miniature film set of Panh’s childhood home in Phnom Penh. The voice-over narration is: “In the middle of life, childhood returns, the water is bitter with its pictures. Childhood as drowning, childhood as a question: How is it that I am here? Why couldn’t I have helped my loves once more? Awaiting childhood, death is present.”65 The next frames show waves crashing against the camera lens, reminding us of what we saw at the beginning of the film and providing a unifying narrative structure. Just as the film begins with an artistic filmic creation of an image of the director’s father in clay, so it ends with interments of corpses (made of clay): Panh informs us that one of the jobs assigned him under the Khmer Rouge regime was to bury his own mother, siblings, and many other dead bodies. The film concludes with images of the burials of the clay figures, as dirt is thrown onto their bodies, one after another, in a mass grave. The narrator delivers some of the most poignant and poetic words in the film as we watch this scene: Mourning is difficult. There is no end to the burial. There are no cattle carts. There are no more slogans. No more young guards in black. There is the blood-drenched earth. The flesh is mine so we are together. There are many things that man should not see or know. Should he see them, he is better off dying, but should any of us see or know these things, then we must live to tell of them. Every single morning I worked over that pit. My shovel hit bones and heads. As for dirt, there is never enough. It’s me they will kill or maybe they already have. Of course, I haven’t found the missing picture. I look for it in vain. A political film should unearth what it invented. And so I made this picture. I look at it. I cherish it. I hold it in my hand like a beloved face. This missing picture I now hand over to you that he never dare to seek us out.66
For Panh it is important for those who have witnessed and survived the genocide to tell their stories and find the missing pictures to fill in the
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lacunae. Nonetheless, there are limitations to their narratives. It is not possible to provide complete psychological closure to either their individual or their collective trauma. In fact, one scene in the film references Sigmund Freud and the talking cure. The clay portrait of Panh, wearing a colorful shirt that makes him stand out from the other characters, is shown reclining on a traditional Khmer bed while a therapist is listening to him. A photograph of Sigmund Freud hangs on the wall, suggesting that the young man is engaged in a psychotherapy session. The voice-over narrates: Sometimes, I pictured a child; let’s say it’s me. He had it all wrong. He didn’t know how to fish, to walk barefoot, or fight. Years later, he feels guilty for not having helped the destitute. They say talking helps; you understand, you will get over it. For me, this wisdom will never come. It’s not a picture of loved ones I seek. I want to touch them. Their voices are missing. . . . I want to leave it all. Leave my language, my country in vain. And my childhood returns. Now it’s the boy who seeks me out. I see him. He wants to speak to me, but words are hard to find.
Clearly, the talking cure does not help Panh heal his lingering trauma or give him complete closure because he still longs to mend the irretrievable loss, to touch his loved ones. As I have pointed out earlier, at the beginning of the film the narrator says, “I am thirteen.” He deliberately uses the present tense because the memories of his traumatic past continue to haunt him. The trauma is obdurate; it refuses to be consigned to the past. At the end of the film, we see images of the fifty-year-old Panh from behind as he watches a young boy digging and walking in the field. The director has sought ways to represent memory, trauma, narrative time, and the legacy of absence in his film. The shift between past and present tenses is the act of memory itself. Panh defends his unwillingness to let go of the past. This unwillingness is not a choice, however, but a result of memories returning to haunt him. Memories seek out survivors. There is an inclination to make present, make known, that lingering legacy of absence. This recalls Freud’s 1917 essay “Mourning and Melancholia,” in which he defined mourning as “the reaction to the loss of a loved person, or to the loss of some abstraction which has taken the place of one, such as one’s country, liberty, an ideal, and so on.”67 Furthermore, Freud suggested that “Each single one of the memories and expectations in which the libido is bound to the object is brought up and hyper-cathected and the detachment of the libido is accomplished in respect of it. . . . When the work of mourning is completed,
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the ego becomes free and uninhibited again.”68 In other words, Freud maintained that mourning is complete when the mourner replaces the lost object with a new one or the absence with an imaginary presence through remembering.69 However, he also pointed out that, in some cases, the symptoms of mourning persist, and he called this lingering affect “melancholia.” He defined melancholia as: “A profoundly painful dejection, cessation of interest in the outside world, loss of the capacity to love, inhibition of all activity, the lowering of the self-regarding feelings to a degree that finds utterance in selfreproaches and self-revilings, [and] culminates in a delusional expectation of punishment.” 70 According to Freud, one of the major differences between mourning and melancholia is that “the disturbances of self-regard are absent in mourning, but otherwise the features are the same.” 71 In her 2001 article “Mourning beyond Melancholia: Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Loss,” Tammy Clewell pointed out that Freud, prior to writing his essay on mourning and melancholia in 1917, was working on an essay on individual narcissism. This essay, published in 1915, influenced his conceptualization of and conclusions about a unified individual subject and narcissism. It also shaped Freud’s understanding of individual mourning for lost love objects and their retrieval as part of an individual’s narcissism.72 This said, we also know that Freud was disillusioned by the outbreak of World War I in 1914. In fact, he published an essay in 1915 titled “Thought for the Times on War and Death,” 73 in which he criticized the violence carried out by the state. Clearly, the violence of war and the deaths it caused influenced Freud’s theory on mourning and melancholia. The need to mourn collectively as a nation the many soldiers who died in the war had shattered Freud’s earlier theory on the unified individual subject and narcissism. Amy Lee Sanford’s works and Rithy Panh’s film (and their biographies) lend themselves to an individualistic analysis of personal trauma, but I would like to move away from the individual subject to a collective understanding of mourning and melancholia in the Cambodian and diasporic Cambodian subjects. As I pointed out earlier, anthropologist Aihwa Ong and Cambodian psychiatrist Chhim Sotheara have concluded that trauma, especially in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, needs to be understood in an interconnected, communal, collective, and holistic way. Both Sanford and Panh have articulated in their work that trauma and mourning are to be understood collectively. For Panh, “Mourning is difficult. . . . The flesh is mine so we are together.” For Sanford, “[The pots] can be seen as symbolic of the trauma that Cambodia, individually, has endured, [but is] not limited to that.”
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As opposed to the psychoanalytic model of trauma that proposes a psychic wound, it is the broken body that seems to be the focused site/sight of trauma and mourning in Cambodia. Again, according to Chhim Sotheara, it is a broken body that leads to broken courage. The living and the dead— traumatized, substituted for (by clay bodies in Panh’s film and Sanford’s Full Circle)—weave together my discussion of trauma and memory in Cambodia and its diaspora. It is difficult to get past this individual and collective trauma and mourning in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide, because Cam bodia is still haunted by the physical remains of Khmer Rouge victims (and perpetrators) on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and the bones scattered in the killing fields. Moreover, mass graves continue to be un earthed.74 In 2006, the former king Norodom Sihanouk (1922–2012) asked the Cambodian government to cremate the bones of the 1.7 million who died under the Khmer Rouge regime so that their souls could rest in peace. This was discouraged, however, because the tribunal courts had just been estab lished and the physical remains of the victims provided much needed evidence for the upcoming trials of the top Khmer Rouge leaders.75 The bones of the dead victims have still not been cremated as prescribed by Cambodian Buddhist ritual.
Both Sonrin I would like to conclude this discussion with a 2008 mixed-media work by Both Sonrin titled Landscape, 1975–1979, composed of charcoal smoke and torn pieces of a red-and-white-checkered krama, a multipurpose Khmer scarf, on canvas.76 Both, an emerging Cambodian artist born in 1988, is clearly a member of the “postmemory” generation. He lives and works in Battambang City, an emerging center for contemporary art in Cambodia.77 His Landscape is intended as a memorial to the wandering souls who died violent deaths. The curling smoke suggests the burning of incense as an offering to their ghosts; but it could also be interpreted as smoke coming from a funeral pyre where the physical remains of the dead are burnt, thus liberating their tortured souls from their bodies. Upon close inspection of the torn pieces of the red-and-white-checkered krama, one sees the names of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime inscribed on the canvas.78 Many of the victims were blindfolded with kramas before they were executed and their bodies dumped into mass graves. The haunting theme in Both’s painting echoes the narrator at the end of Panh’s film: “Are the dead there? Yes. Sometimes,
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it seems we walked over them, so I stepped away. There are always souls who wander seeking a place; a sweet, noble thought.” Panh’s film, The Missing Picture, is not a self-indulgent memoir. It is a requiem for those who died during the Khmer Rouge genocide. In this chapter I have discussed and analyzed Cambodian and diasporic Cambodian artists, a filmmaker, and poets from three different generations— Peou (b. 1962), Panh (b. 1964), Sanford (b. 1972), and Both (b. 1988)—all of whose works help us understand the issue of trauma, memory, loss, mourning, and melancholia in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide. Like many survivors, these artists would like to move on with their lives, but their traumatic pasts seek them out and continue to haunt them. It seems as though both the individual and the collective experiencing of trauma and loss is irreparable. Indeed, Cambodians mourn the loss of the innocence of child hood that leads to the loss of trust, especially between Cambodians, due to the “auto-genocide” nature of the killings. More important, one needs to be able to grieve for loved ones, because otherwise the violence persists.79 As Panh says poignantly and understatedly in his film, “Mourning is difficult.” It is even more devastating to know and difficult to accept that one is still in mourning when the next morning arrives. This persistent and lingering symptom of mourning points to what Freud diagnosed as “melancholia,” which somewhat echoes the prevailing symptom of baksbat in Cambodian culture. However, there is a major difference in the causes of this form of melancholia: in the Cambodian case, it was genocide or “auto-genocide,” not war across continents. And the difference is also more than just a historical one. I would like to reclaim an epistemological difference by articulating a culturally specific way of knowing and understanding trauma through the body, especially the broken body. It is by recognizing this difference (and specificity), as well as its potentialities and limitations, that we can intervene by searching for ways to mend the broken vessel of the body, of the mind, of the nation.
Scarred Resilience The Legacy of the United States’ Secret Bombing of Cambodia
It was very weird; you could go up to the roof[top] after a dinner party and watch the B-52s drop their loads in the distance. . . . They were dropping twenty to thirty tons of bombs on a square [meter] where they believed troops were and the earth would go up and at night the earth turned rose colored and went half a mile in the air—It was extraordinary. —Sydney Schanberg, American journalist1
When the bomb exploded, we could see piles of dirt. It was like ponds had been dug by people. They were deep, approximately 2 to 3 meters. It was so deep that you could not reach the ground’s surface when standing in the bomb pond with your arm stretched high. —Noun Veoun, villager from Takeo province, Cambodia 2
Snarm [scars] inscribe shallow . . . and deep visible marks upon faces and bodies for eyes to see. Who knows how deep . . . snarm harms snarm’s way upon the living spirits of you and me . . . ? —Chanthou Oeur, artist3
Between 1965 and 1973 the US military dropped an estimated 2.7 million tons of bombs over 113,00 sites in Cambodia.4 As already stated, the United States’ secret bombing aided the Khmer Rouge regime’s rise to power. The three epigraphs to this chapter describe the impact that the bombing and subsequent genocide had on the legacy of trauma in Cambodian visual culture. The US government has yet to take full responsibility for the damage its bombing wrought in Cambodia. The late Richard
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Holbrooke, former US assistant secretary of state, for example, placed blame squarely on the Khmer Rouge regime for the atrocities committed: “Cambodia will not recover from what it has gone through for the next century. A hundred years from now, people will still see the mark of this disaster that Pol Pot put on Cambodia.”5 Holbrooke neatly sidestepped acknowledging the role the United States played in contributing to the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime, and consequently to the murder of 1.7 million Cambodians between 1974 and 1979.6 Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan have published an article based on new archival evidence reinforcing the argument that the US bombing of Cambodia facilitated the growth of the Khmer Rouge regime’s power.7 The American bombing was indeed a defining moment in the modern history of Cambodia. It was the beginning of the displacement of villagers living near the border between Cambodia and Vietnam, where many bombing missions were centered. The bombs dropped there left indelible scars on the landscape as well as on the minds and bodies of Cambodians around the world, yet the Khmer Rouge geno cide receives much wider attention than the bombing. I suggest that the graphic images of the bones of victims executed under the Khmer Rouge regime on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh and that are found scattered in mass graves in the killing fields throughout Cambodia have overshadowed the equally devastating scars on the land left behind by the American bombing. The visual attention of the international media has shifted to the equally traumatic aftermath of the bombing in Laos. An example is the scarring of the land in the province of Xieng Khouang, located in central Laos, an area heavily bombed by the US military, which became a tourist attraction in the postwar period. In Xieng Khouang one finds huge bomb craters that farmers now use as “fish ponds” scattered among the rice fields, as well as the remains of some of the 2.5 million tons of bombs that the United States dropped on Laos. The unexploded bombs are detonated and used by the locals to decorate hotel rooms, lobbies, and travel agencies. Shell casings are turned into daily utilitarian objects such as cooking and eating utensils— pots, spoons, and knives—as well as decorative pots for planting flowers and vegetables.8 Metal from ordnance is also used as stilts to support wooden and bamboo houses found in villages throughout this region. Interestingly, large unexploded bombs are now considered the collective property of the village where they are found and detonated. They are sold to Vietnamese collectors, who melt them down for rebar to use in concrete construction.9 In sum, most attention to the visual remains of the US bombing is
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focused on Laos although tons of cluster bombs were dropped on Cambodia; today there are millions of undetonated bomblets still hidden in Cambodian soil. To cite one instance, villagers of Mondolkiri Province found two barrels containing Agent Orange, the deadly chemical used to defoliate densely forested areas near the Vietnam-Cambodia border and to expose the hidden Viet Cong. According to Ratana Heng, CMAC deputy director, “Cambodia suffered badly from cluster bombs dropped en masse during the Vietnam-American War. So far our small teams have found and cleared 10,000 unexploded bomblets in provinces located on the borders between Cambodia and Vietnam.”10 It is still quite common for villagers to stumble across unexploded bombs or barrels containing Agent Orange in the provinces of Mondolkiri and Svay Rieng.11 The huge bomb craters are today deceptively hidden away under the leafy green forest and in rice fields. In the previous chapter I argued that trauma in the Cambodian cultural context is understood as baksbat, meaning broken body and form, which in turn leads to broken courage, Moreover, I pointed out that once the body and spirit are broken they are irreparable. I also touched upon the Khmer term snarm, literally scars or traces, as in the traces of an elephant’s footprints.12 In this chapter I will further explore the surface and depth of snarm to see how it illuminates our understanding of trauma, pain, and resilience by examining in depth the works of three Cambodian artists: Vandy Rattana, Leang Seckon, and Chanthou Oeur. In addition, I will analyze the lyrics of a song sung by a “mad” Khmer man named Korb who describes a world gone out of control. I have chosen these artists because their works address the profound legacy of the US bombing. In practical terms, contemporary Cambodian art is an emerging field, and artists whose works deal with the legacy of the bombing are few. My arguments here are twofold. First, I argue that these artists’ works expose and thus help to magnify the hidden and ignored scars of trauma left by the United States’ bombing of Cambodia. Moreover, I draw upon Deirdre Boyle’s argument that memories of traumatic events are inscribed on the human body; it is through reenactment that these amorphous and inar ticulate experiences are transformed into verbal articulations. I contend, however, that visual images also play an important role in the magnification and theorization of the surface and depth of traumatic scars. Second, in contrast to the works of the artists discussed in the previous chapter, whose traumatic experiences are irreparable, here I argue that the traumatic scars embodied by these artists’ and writers’ works suggest a sense of resilience and endurance in the aftermath of trauma. I call this “scarred resilience.”
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Vandy Rattana One of the most engaging contemporary Cambodian artists whose photographs and video installations deal with the legacy of the secret bombing is Vandy Rattana. Vandy was born in Phnom Penh in 1980. He is a self-trained photographer and filmmaker who helped to establish Sa Sa Art Gallery (2009–2010), transformed into the Sa Sa Bassac in 2010, one of the few spaces in Phnom Penh dedicated to exhibiting contemporary art. He divides his time between Phnom Penh, Paris, and Taipei and was represented by the Sa Sa Bassac Gallery.13 According to Vandy, he was photographing rubber plantations in eastern Cambodia in 2008 when villagers showed him many huge craters. This was the first time he had seen such man-made scars in the land. He subsequently embarked on a research journey to find out more about this horrific chapter in the history of modern Cambodia.14 In 2009 Vandy created a series of still digital color photographs and a single-channel video installation called Bomb Ponds. The digital color photographs included in the Bomb Ponds series captures bomb craters that are found in provinces throughout Cambodia most heavily bombed between 1965 and 1973. The artist has deliberately over-aestheticized his framing of these bomb craters in a series of nine photographs. One of the photographs reproduced here shows an almost perfectly round bomb crater from Kompong Thom Province (plate 6) filled with water and situated in the middle of an emerald-green rice field. In the postwar period, villagers converted bomb craters into ponds for fish farming and storing water to irrigate their rice fields. The green rice stalks provide a bright contrast to the patch of red earth in the foreground of the frame.15 Vandy’s photographs from the Bomb Ponds series are subtle. When I call them over-aestheticized, I mean that these beautifully framed and bright, candy-colored images of the bomb craters—ironically—mask the reality of these scarred landscapes, for they are literally poison due to chemical contamination. If viewers were not told these ponds were bomb craters, they would admire the formal compositions, clarity, and sharpness of focus of the images; one might even meditate on their sublime beauty. I believe that the over-aestheticization of these damaged and poisoned landscapes is a visual strategy employed by the artist to point out the deceptive surface of these poisoned landscapes.16 Vandy has chosen film as his specific medium to visualize memories of
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violence and trauma in the aftermath of the bombing. Rather than conforming to a long-established visual convention employed by photojour nalists harking back to the colonial period in Southeast Asia, he creates a contrast to competing iconic photographs from the Vietnam War. Photojournalism involves getting close-up shots of horrific events and magnifying violence and the wounds it inflicts in order to provide “proof” and evoke emotional responses from viewers. Examples of iconic photographs taken by American journalists during the Vietnam War include Malcolm Brown’s Buddhist Monk’s Suicide Protest (Saigon, 1963); Eddie Adams’ Execution in Saigon Street (Saigon, 1968); Ronald S. Haeberle’s My Lai Massacre (1968); and Nick Ut’s Fleeing Napalm Bomb Attack (Trangbang, 1972).17 In the post–Vietnam War period, Vietnamese-American artists such as An-My Lê staged reenactments of battle scenes and simulated explosions of bombs in her Small War series of black-and-white photographs.18 The deceptively serene, pastoral landscapes captured in Vandy’s photographs are the opposite of the graphically violent images from the Vietnam War. Vandy chose to capture the violence and trauma in a video installation that he created to accompany the exhibition of the still photographs in the Bomb Ponds series. The film installation is a mixed genre that comprises at least three different approaches to filmmaking: ethnographic, documentary, and video installations.19 The film begins with alternating distance and close-up shots of bomb ponds situated in lush green rice fields. A traditional musical instrument called the champei dong veng, a two-stringed long-neck guitar, is played by Kong Nay, a blind master musician who improvises his lyrics in Khmer: “I am Kong Nay and I have been asked what will the future of Cambodia be.” It is significant that a blind musician/“seer” is asked to share his insight and visions for the future of the Cambodian nation. Likewise, close-up shots reveal a crab crawling at the bottom of a shallow pond and a dragonfly flying near a green rice plant. These two contrasting images of ground and sky foreshadow the violence and trauma experienced by the three survivors included in subsequent interviews in the film: Noun Veoun and Heng Ty (both from Takeo Province) and Mi Mut (from Mondolkiri Province). All three were in their teens or early twenties when the bombs dropped on their respective villages. Noun and Mi show us the bomb craters from the late 1960s and inform us that only cows and water buffaloes go into these bomb ponds. Many animals have died from drinking the poisoned water. The craters found in Takeo Province measure two to three meters deep and are located two hundred meters apart from one another; B-52 planes bombed this area
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heavily between 1965 and 1973. The two men relive their respective experiences of the violence caused by the bombs when they were in their teens. They narrate their memories using both verbal and body language. Mi’s experience is particularly poignant; he takes us to the bomb pond where four bombs were dropped, the site where his grandmother was killed: This is where my grandmother was killed by the bombs. When I got here, the planes followed us and dropped bombs here. Four bombs were dropped and exploded here. My grandmother was bleeding from her ears, nose and eyes because of the explosions. I ran with my grandmother and lay down with her like this. I kept saying, “Grandma, please stay calm and don’t move.”20
Mi relives the experience by reenacting it in situ. He takes us to the spot where the four bombs were dropped and exploded. He lies face down on the ground with his right hand over where his grandmother’s shoulder had been. He tells us that when the explosions subsided, he realized that he was comforting a corpse: his grandmother was already dead. During the reenactment he begins to weep, saying, “I saw my grandmother die, bleeding all over. I cannot speak anymore.”21 In addition, Mi tells us: “I don’t want to see these bomb ponds. That’s why I live in the mountains, so that I can avoid seeing the bomb craters. But I can still see them from the top of the mountain.”22 The narratives of memories and trauma in Vandy’s video installation are complex and powerful. To analyze them I turn to Deirdre Boyle, who draws an insightful distinction between “narrative memory” and “traumatic memory.” Narrative memory is part of our daily lives, so it is easy to recount. Traumatic memory takes longer to recover, and in some cases requires reenactment in order to bring it to the surface. Moreover, traumatic memory is an individual’s experience and thus is a solitary act.23 According to Boyle, “traumatic memory” was defined and theorized by Pierre Janet, one of Sigmund Freud’s teachers. He posited that “the lack of proper integration of intense, emotional arousing experience into the memory system results in dissociation or splitting in the formation of memory.” Moreover, “Janet’s ideas are particularly helpful when considering how dissociation of traumatic memories may render them virtually inaccessible through language until they can be translated into the symbolic language necessary for linguistic retrieval and thus brought into consciousness.”24 All three informants employed memory to narrate their experiences of the bombing. Voeun and Mi were the two men who returned to the sites/
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sights of trauma. Of the three survivors interviewed in the film, Mi turned to “traumatic memory” narrative in using his body not simply to demonstrate but also to reenact in order to remember the horrific moment when four bombs exploded and his grandmother died in his arms. It seems that the reenactment of traumatic moments lends itself to reliving very painful experiences; it also helped Mi relieve the pain inscribed on his body through reliving it. However, though the remembering and reenactment of traumatic events can be cathartic because they are a reliving and relieving of the bodily and psychic pain, they do not provide the survivor with complete healing and closure. Reenactment as a way to access the repressed “traumatic memories” of both survivors and perpetrators in documentary films about the Khmer Rouge genocide was first seen in Rithy Panh’s 2003 film, S-21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. Panh was inspired by Claude Lanzmann’s 1985 film Shoah, in which he asked survivors of the Holocaust to reenact traumatic events. In fact, Panh mentioned in his 2013 memoir, The Elimination: “I infinitely admire the documentary work of Claude Lanzmann, which is based on speech and the organization of speech. The genius of his Shoah is that it lets the viewer see through words.”25 Indeed, it is important to translate repressed traumatic memories that are inscribed on the body into words and thus articulate them into consciousness. However, I would also argue that both moving and still images also play an important role in capturing and magnifying the bodily reenactment of repressed trauma, as is demonstrated by Mi’s reenactment of the bombing in Vandy’s film.26 More important, the centrality of the body in the articulation of repressed traumatic memories comes across clearly in the film.27 Vandy’s video installation concludes with a series of profound questions the artist asks the three survivors of this devastating event. One is whether they think the bomb ponds should be filled in. Veoun answers by sharing with us his conversation with fellow villagers in Takeo Province. They have started to fill in the bomb ponds in order to reclaim the land to grow rice. The other two survivors provide the following answers: Heng Ty: I think the bomb ponds should be filled up. Let it end here. I pity the next generations because they want to live longer, they want to be good. . . . I’ve been through it. I’ve seen all the sadness. Mi Mut: In my opinion, we should ask the Americans to come and fill all the bomb ponds here and all the bomb ponds in the mountains to ease the pain.28
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Mi made it clear that no monetary compensation could make up for the loss of his close relatives, especially his beloved grandmother, who died a violent death. Indeed, all his family died, and his pain persists. He states in the film, “my pain is five and six times bigger than before.”29 Heng’s answer to Vandy’s question reflects her Buddhist compassion and her desire to end future suf fering by erasing the scars of trauma so that the next generation will not have to look at these bomb ponds and inherit this burden of remembering and trauma. On the other hand, Mi’s answer is highly political. He wants the United States government to come and fill in the bomb ponds, not to erase the evidence that testifies to their irresponsible actions, but to admit to the damage their secret bombing did—and still does—to the land of Cambodia and its people. Clearly, one lingering effect of the US bombing is the traumatic pain that a survivor like Mi is compelled to live with. As I pointed out in chapter 1, Elaine Scarry has written about the body in pain, in which she claims “physical pain has no voice”;30 and thus we need to give it a voice in order for it to tell its history. But what is this language of pain? What roles do visual images play in articulating this traumatic physical pain? In an insightful article on the writings of the Indochinese-born writer Marguerite Duras, Julia Kristeva pointed out that the abrupt and stylistic awkwardness of her writing is “the discourse of blunted pain.”31 Moreover, Kristeva argues that Duras’ films are a place “where the same malady of pain is subdued, enveloped in dreamy charm that both softens it and makes it more artificial.”32 According to Kristeva, Duras’ pain and madness are present in her writing. Of course, Duras’ films are fictions and Vandy’s video installation Bomb Ponds is a “documentary,” but both are filmmakers, and film as a medium involves “a combination of bodies, gestures, actors and voices.”33 I argue here that this inherent combination of voice and body makes film the perfect medium for capturing the bodily site of trauma; film thus helps to magnify and translate repressed traumatic memories into verbal language. Moreover, this translation reclaims a culturally specific epistemological means of experiencing and knowing trauma through the body and contributes to the healing of both the damaged psyche and body. In our era of digital photographic and filmic reproductions, we are inundated with images of violence. It is perhaps more effective to present viewers with seemingly serene color photographs of emerald-green rice fields and ponds. Viewers will soon realize that these are images of traumatic scars of a violent episode in the history of modern Cambodia. Vandy articulated the intention behind his Bomb Ponds series:
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I think about all my work as a research. I look for medicine to heal myself from the trauma of my history. Bomb Ponds photographs are surfaces, portraits of physical scars that connect to the trauma of millions of Cambodians who lived through the United States bombing campaign (1965–1973) and millions more affected by similar bombings worldwide.34
Still photography as a medium lends itself to magnifying the scars inscribed on the surface of the land, but it is film that enables the artist to expose the violence and capture the bodily reenactment of repressed trauma and the urgency of bodily and emotional pain as evoked by memories of the horrific event.
Leang Seckon Another Cambodian artist whose works deal with the US bombing of Cambodia is Leang Seckon. Leang, was born in 1970 in Merlop, a village in Prey Veng Province, about ninety-five kilometers from Phnom Penh.35 He came from a poor farming community, and like many village boys in Cambodia, one of his duties was looking after the family’s buffaloes. In 1992, he journeyed from his village to Phnom Penh. He subsequently enrolled at the Royal University of Fine Arts and received a bachelor of fine arts degree in design in 2002.36 Due to the elimination of artists and intellectuals under the Khmer Rouge regime, very few artists survived the genocide to provide students with a formal education in the visual arts. Leang is thus a selftaught artist. He first studied interior design but then decided to focus on painting. However, his secret (or not so secret) dream was to become a Khmer pop singer.37 After he graduated from university, he toured the country with Dy Saveth, a well-known actress and singer from the 1960s who returned from exile in France to live in Cambodia in 1993.38 Leang is a mixed-media and performance artist, but he is primarily a painter in oil, acrylic, water, and ink. In 2002, he met Chris Lawson, an American artist who works with collage and mixed media. Leang was already a talented and original artist, but this exposure to collage through Lawson enabled him to layer his images and stories.39 He is represented by Rossi & Rossi Gallery in London, and his works have been exhibited in Japan, the United States, Singapore, Thailand, China, and Australia. In addition, he was one of the Cambodian artists taking part in the Season of Cambodia festival in New York City in April 2013.40 In 2009 Leang created a series of mixed-media works titled Samput
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Mien Domguon (literally, “the skirt that has weight,” also known as Heavy Skirt).41 The artist also made a video installation with the same title showing him interviewing his mother about her life during the American bombing of her village.42 It is her story that inspired Leang’s Heavy Skirt series. The series and video installation deal profoundly with the legacy of the US bombing of his village in Prey Veng Province in the early 1970s. Heavy Skirt was his solo exhibition at the Rossi & Rossi Gallery in London in April 2010. The exhibition comprised ten large mixed-media paintings and ten small mixed-media paintings on canvas.43 In Khmer, the title carries a double meaning. First, domguon (heaviness or weight) is used to describe a woman when she is pregnant, the gradually increasing weight of the fetus she is carrying. Second, the artist’s mother was pregnant with Leang when the United States bombed her village. Hence the Khmer phrase Samput Mien Domguon referred to the heavy bodily and emotional weight the artist’s mother had to bear in order not only to protect the health of her fetus, but also to shelter her soon-to-be-born child from the bombing by means of her old samput (tube skirt). It is important to keep in mind that the province of Prey Veng is located on the border between Vietnam and Cambodia, an area that the US military targeted to attack Viet Cong who had taken refuge in Cambodian territory. Leang’s video installation of Heavy Skirt is a series of works dated to 2010 and derives narratively and conceptually from the story of his mother’s patched skirt and her horrific experience of the bombing of her village. Let us look at this video installation closely, in which Leang interviews his mother. Her name was Neang Nov, and she was born in Cambodia in 1944.44 The installation starts with the artist singing an excerpt from the Khmer national anthem with a group of young children.45 The next frame is a close-up shot of an old sewing machine that Leang used to re-create his mother’s heavy skirt and to sew together fragments of textiles that he col lected to superimpose layers of images on the surface of his paintings. One of the large mixed-media canvases, Samput Phka Meas (The Golden Flower Skirt), measuring 150 cm × 130 cm, became the backdrop to Neang Nov’s story (plate 7). This tableau depicts Leang’s village in Prey Veng. The com position is a grid with square blocks; inside each one of the blocks are tradi tional houses on stilts, flowers, round bomb ponds, Buddhist temples, and stupas (structures containing relics of the Buddha and deceased ancestors). Rendered at the center is a plane that is dropping flowers instead of bombs onto the village below. This huge tableau provides the historical backdrop and thus sets the stage for Nov’s recollection of her life on the ground during
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the American bombing of her village. As she runs her hands over the surface and texture of her son’s newly created version of her old heavy skirt, she tells her son, the artist, about its history. Nov shares vivid, tactile memories of how the skirt symbolized living in poverty during the bombing: During the time of war, I wore the same skirt and mended it so many times. At first I just used small patches, but they got bigger and bigger, until finally I couldn’t fix it anymore. I sewed so many patches, we called it the skirt of a hundred patches [literally, in Khmer, the skirt of a hundred colors].46 It got so heavy, and it was in pieces. I finally had to throw it away.47
The next frame shows Leang playing a tug-of-war with the children from his village. It becomes clear that these images of his singing of the Khmer national anthem and this tug-of-war game evoke the Cambodian nation in wartime and his childhood in Prey Veng. His mother, moreover, informs us that she was pregnant with him in 1969 when her village was bombed: Another woman came and helped me, because she saw I was heavily pregnant. I didn’t really think about what year it was, but I know I was really pregnant at the time. The bombs were falling, but I don’t really know which year it was. There were the bombs and I could hear the sound of the plane flying overheard. . . . “Lim, come and get your little brother.” He picked up Seckon, but he couldn’t really carry him properly, kept dropping him. He was so terrified, and rushing because he’d seen the plane. And the plane had seen him and aimed a bomb at him. I saw the plane clearly as I was standing in the door of the bunker. It missed and the bomb fell right onto Ta Morm’s house, exploded, and made a huge crash. Their ox cart was destroyed and the wheel was flung really far into the rice fields. Everything was destroyed, the rice storage area and the house were on fire. All the walls fell out of our house. There was sound and wind from the force. It was very dark from the smoke. It was chaos everywhere. The bomb dropped south of the village, and shrapnel fell this far away from my bunker. It also fell on the roof of the bunker. It was all sticky when I touched it afterwards. . . . We could hear the sound of several planes coming, one, two, three planes, like that. I could tell from the sound how far away they were, and how much time I had. I knew I wouldn’t make it back in time.48
Nov points to the airplane at the center of her son’s painting as a visual reference as she recollects those horrific days. It is interesting that, while
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Nov could remember almost all of the events, she could not recollect the exact year when the bombs were dropped on her village. Because birthdays are not celebrated in traditional Khmer culture, it is not uncommon for Khmer people in general to forget specific dates of events in their lives. However, we can surmise that it was sometime between 1969 and 1970, because she said that her baby boy (Leang) was beginning to learn how to crawl and his older brother helped her carry his baby brother to the bomb shelter. The next frame shows Leang dressed in white, standing in the middle of a rice field, lip-synching to a Khmer pop song and gesturing as one sees in many Khmer karaoke videos. We subsequently see a film clip of the artist’s appearance on Cambodia Television, Channel 21, where he sang another Khmer pop song. However, the weaving in of these seemingly diverse short film clips does not interrupt the linearity of his mother’s oral narrative of her horrific experience of the US bombing. The insertion of these short film clips into the video installation enables the artist to engage with various intersecting temporalities, histories, and memories. The video installation continues with a close-up shot of the artist squeezing acrylic paint onto his palette to simulate the dropping of bombs, simultaneously corresponding to his mother’s voice describing the residue of the bombs: “It was sticky when I touched it afterward.” The film concludes with the Khmer phrase “Freedom is satisfaction,” uttered by all the people who participated in a Buddhist ritual that took place in his village. In brief, Heavy Skirt is both a story that belongs to Leang’s mother and a tribute to her.49 It is about her struggle to survive in her village in the early 1970s. Interestingly, while Nov’s telling of her ordeal is linear, the visual narrative in the film resists linearity. Nov’s memoir is consistently interrupted by images that reference other events, although they may be related to the central story in the video installation. Leang’s tendency to superimpose other images onto the main story stems from his desire to integrate his lived experiences and perspective on Cambodian popular culture into his works. As Bradford Edwards points out: “The artist [Leang Seckon] is, unabashedly, the proverbial sponge. He actively absorbs everything that is around him and ideas of political correctness or total resolution are of little concern although the artwork usually ends up sophisticated, concept-based, and smartly executed.”50 Leang’s use of mixed media and collage on canvas allows the artist to create what I call a narrative palimpsest: he embeds his political and personal perspectives on the social and political issues of Cambodia in his works. The stories told in his works are layered and not always
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immediately legible to viewers; thus each composition relies heavily on the artist’s explication. The Heavy Skirt series, when juxtaposed to the video installation with the same title, as at the commercial gallery of Rossi & Rossi in London in 2010, provided deeply interwoven historical, biographical, and narrative contexts, thus illuminating the personal, social, and political.
Samput Mien Domguon As already mentioned, Leang’s mother’s “heavy skirt” gave birth to the concept behind this series of works in mixed media. The narrative legibility of the paintings hinges crucially on the artist’s explanations; they provide keys to the symbolism and visual codes that Leang invented for and embedded within his works. Consider, for example, the painting Samput Mien Domguon (Heavy Skirt; plate 8). It depicts a series of B-52s, rendered in camouflage patterns, dropping bombs and flowers onto a couple who are shown clasped in an amorous embrace inside a huge yellow flower. Further, the artist turned a cluster of bombs into the shape of an airplane, with each one of these bombs shaped like a penis fully erect and ready to penetrate the earth.51 According to Leang, “I feel that the bomber pilots sometimes in their hearts regret very much the destruction that came from their work. They don’t want to kill anything, but this is their job. This is why I show bombs falling, but there are some flowers alongside. . . . Skin is like a flower, very soft and easy to break.”52 The flowers in the painting are made of textiles that the artist sewed directly onto the canvas. Another painting from the Heavy Skirt series is Samput Bohbaouey, (Flickering Skirt) (plate 9). It presents Leang’s imaginative retelling of his mother’s account of the American bombing of his village in his childhood. The narrative in the painting begins with the Garuda bird, a mythical Hindu bird that appears at the very top of the painting. The bird is shown dropping bombs onto the land and waking up the naga (serpent).53 It is no coincidence that the giant Garuda bird resembles the American bald eagle as found on the seal of the United States; again, Leang layers his symbolism and meaning. The eagle stands for the US bombing of his village. Ironically, the code name for the United States’ withdrawal of remaining personnel from its embassy in Phnom Penh on April 12, 1975, was “Operation Eagle Pull.”54 A photograph taken by Roland Neveu on that date shows an American soldier taking down the American flag from the balcony of the United States Embassy; below the flagpole is a seal bearing the eagle. It is important
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to note that the bird in Leang’s painting stands simultaneously for the Hindu-Buddhist Garuda and the eagle of the United States. The painting also depicts birds fleeing their nests, compelled to leave their eggs and babies behind. According to the artist, they try to put out the fire with their white powder and thus protect the flowers from the fire. Moreover, Leang tells us that the baby at the center of the painting is a self-portrait. He is shown protected by three devatas, heavenly angels: one holds an umbrella; the other two are shown wielding their magic fans to deflect the falling bombs from the baby Leang. Situated below is Neang Nov, holding her baby.55 In brief, according to Leang, “Everybody comes from the skirt, born from the body of a woman. The skirt covers us, as it covers the life of the mother, but, torn and patched, it is the Heavy Skirt.”56
Marvelous Realism In contrast to Neang Nov’s account of the American bombing, which is grounded in the act of remembering and forgetting, Leang’s narrative belongs to a genre of art and literature that I call Khmer Buddhist marvelous realism. I borrow this concept from the Cuban novelist and cultural theorist Alejo Carpentier, who coined the term lo real maravilloso in his 1948 essay “The Baroque and the Marvelous.” Carpentier defines marvelous realism thus: “The extraordinary is not necessarily lovely or beautiful. It is neither beautiful nor ugly, but rather it is amazing because it is strange. Everything is amazing, everything that eludes established norms is marve lous.”57 For Carpentier, the marvelous is synonymous with the extraordinary in the diverse cultures of Latin America. Likewise, the notions of the “real” in Khmer culture are grounded in both local animist and Buddhist worldviews. In fact, there is a long-established tradition of Khmer written and oral literature that captures exactly this blend of the extraordinary and the marvelous. Cambodian films from the 1960s and early 1970s, for example, often tell extraordinary tales of human beings transforming into animals and other fantastic supernatural beings, as in the jatakas (previous lives of the Buddha); the borders between this life and past lives, dreams and reality, are blurred. One of the most imaginative extracanonical Buddhist stories is Sabbasith, a poem composed by the Khmer poet Moen Aksâr Tan in 1899.58 Moen expanded and localized one Buddhist jataka from the fifty Pannasa Jatakas with the same title. In 1965, Khmer film director Ly Bun Yim made a film of
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this tale. The story is relatively simple: a pair of birds had two babies. One day the male bird went to hunt for food for his family while the female bird stayed at home to look after their children. The male fluttered from one blooming flower to another until night fell. He was caught inside a flower when its petals closed for the evening and so had to stay the night. Unfortunately, there was a forest fire during the night, and his wife couldn’t save her babies. When the male bird returned home the next day, his wife could smell the scent left by the flower in which he had been imprisoned on his body. She assumed he was having an affair and committed suicide by throwing herself into the fire. However, before she committed suicide, she vowed never to speak to any men in her next life. Devastated by the deaths of his wife and children, the male bird also committed suicide; but before he did so, he prayed that he would be reunited with his beloved wife in his next life. The stories told in the Ly Bun Yim film are about a jealous husband who swallows his wife, who, in turn, hides her lover by swallowing him. Another female character hides her lover in her 1960s beehive hairdo. Ly made use of fantastic special effects and created a marvelously imaginative film. Leang Seckon grew up in this cultural milieu of Khmer Buddhist marvelous realism: by this I mean that the local Khmer Buddhist worldview states that one’s past, present, and future lives are dictated by kam (Skt. karma; Pali kamma), the law of cause and effect. Moreover, what constitutes “real” in this worldview is grounded in local animism interwoven with Khmer Theravada Buddhism. Thus, with the exception of kam, visual culture cannot be defined or understood according to Buddhist philosophical notions of “the real.” Khmer Buddhist marvelous realism is grounded both in the supernatural and extraordinary and the modernity of Khmer culture. Leang also brings his knowledge of Khmer popular culture from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s to his vision: one sees film stills, record labels, and other memorabilia from these decades incorporated in his work. There are several explanations for Leang’s desire to see and transform his mother‘s narrative of the horrific bombing through the lens of Khmer Buddhist marvelous realism: first, as we have seen, he wanted to find a visual language suitable for the articulation of traumatic pain that would transform the experiences of atrocity into artistic expression, or at least help to ease pain and suffering. This is clear, for example, when Nov points to the B-52 rendered at the center of her son’s painting as a visual reference; it drops flowers in lieu of bombs, contradicting Nov’s narrative of horror.59 It is also the artist’s way of reminding us that human skin is very delicate; like flower petals, it is very fragile and thus easily cut. Second, Leang’s desire to t ransform the
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experience of violence into peace and serenity through the symbolism of flowers is recognizably Buddhist. The video installation of The Heavy Skirt ends with the Leang family members participating in a Buddhist ritual in which they recite the phrase “Freedom is satisfaction” together. In the Buddhist sense, “freedom” refers to liberating oneself from the bondage of bad kamma. Leang continued this theme of transforming bombs into flowers in an installation titled The Flowering Parachute Skirt, created for the Season of Cambodia Festival in New York City in April 2013. The artist found an old parachute at a Buddhist temple in his village in Prey Veng, detritus from US military bombers in the 1970s. In an interview with Poch Reasey, a journalist from Voice of America Khmer Radio, the artist said, “Over forty years ago, the parachute dropped as part of the U.S. bombing of Cambodia and now I would like to transform it into art.”60 Leang returned the parachute to its country of origin and created a performance at Columbia University in New York on May 1, 2013. The artist invited women from the Vietnamese and Cambodian American communities in New York and asked them to cut up flower patterns from printed batik sarongs comparable to the ones found on his mother’s heavy skirt. The women then sewed these flowers onto a skirt made of the parachute, and Leang wrapped the skirt around the waist of a figure of an American soldier. All the participants carried the parachute skirt in a procession on the campus of Columbia University. Leang did not want to create more conflict but simply to make a Buddhist peace offering by transforming this military object into a work of art: “I want to drop flowers and art, and not bombs, on the United States’ soil.”61 This transformation of gun power into “flower power” evokes a memorable black-and-white photograph taken by Bernie Boston in 1967 that showed a protestor to the Vietnam War placing a carnation into the barrel of one of the rifles the National Guards were pointing at him.62 Last, one can interpret Heavy Skirt and the female body as embodiments of the nation—literally, “the Motherland”—ripped and damaged by the bombing. The wear and tear on Nov’s heavy skirt and the one hundred patches that were used to cover up the holes in the fabric mirror the scarred landscape. In addition, the patchwork is analogous to the stitching and closing of a wound: it will heal, but a scar will remain. This is expressed in Torn Skirt (Samput Rohait), another work from the Heavy Skirt series (plate 10). In it, we see B-52 planes stacked vertically with their cockpits facing upward as they fly over a green and gold landscape. The landscape is divided
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into a grid with square patches painted in alternating green and gold, and images of B-52 planes superimposed on the golden squares. According to Leang: Aeroplanes, smoke, flowers, fireworks repeat like the covering of the lowlands of Cambodia. The countryside was torn and ripped in the moment of exploding bombs. The skirt tore, and so did the fabric of life. . . . The torn skirt is a flowery skirt adorned with lovely lace flowers. I want to tell the history of my people, my village, to remember the bomb smoke [that] lingered still, when all of life was killed by this smoke and all of life became charcoal. But now life has moved to find safety and grows up anew even between wisps of smoke. Life is beautiful again.63
The green squares in the painting represent bomb craters. The artist sewed flowers that he cut out of his mother’s batik sarong (the heavy skirt) on the now-green ponds. The green color and the flowers symbolize the renewal of growth and rebirth in the aftermath of the bombing. So far we have seen Vandy Rattana and Leang Seckon’s artistic ap proaches and perspectives on the legacy of the US bombing of Cambodia. I argue here that the differences between their approaches to representing memories and trauma in the aftermath of the bombing reinforce Walter Benjamin’s analogy of the filmmaker as surgeon and painter as magician that I discussed in chapter 1 in conjunction with Rithy Panh’s film The Missing Picture. According to Benjamin, “The magician heals a sick person by the laying on of hands; the surgeon cuts into the patient’s body.”64 Clearly, Leang is a magician whose art is grounded in Khmer Buddhist marvelous realism. Local Khmer realism derives from the artist’s powerful imagination and, as Bradford Edwards points out, “Here [Leang] Seckon engages in his shamanistic version of ‘soul repair.’ ”65 Vandy, on the other hand, goes beyond the surface of the scars of trauma by using digital film to document as well as to interrogate his subjects. As a result, the Bomb Ponds series exposes the complexity involved in the personal processes of making sense of experiences of American bombing of villages.
Chanthou Oeur Another artist whose art depicts traumatic scars left by the legacy of the US bombing of Cambodia is Chanthou Oeur (also known as Chakra
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or O’Bon). Oeur was born in 1952 on Koh Dach, a small island about twenty miles outside of Phnom Penh.66 He was orphaned at a young age, and like many Khmer boys entered the monkhood. There is a fascinating history explaining Oeur’s many names. According to him, from elementary to high school, he used the name of Thay Oeur, but his classmates called him by his nickname, Chakra. Chakra in Khmer is an invincible giant who possesses great humor and wit; Oeur’s classmates might have been attributing these characteristics to him. In 1963, Oeur fell ill with a very high fever. He was poor and could not afford medical care. (Even now, hospital and health-care facilities in the provinces of Cambodia are limited.) He was fortunate in that he had a female cousin whose name was Chanthou, which in Khmer means “tuberose” (Polianthes tuberosa), a white, scented flower. Chanthou lived in Phnom Penh and had access to the Russian hospital. Oeur took his cousin’s name in order to be admitted to it and thereafter was known as Chanthou Oeur. He lived through the US bombing of Cambodia and survived the Khmer Rouge genocide.67 Subsequently, in 1980, he went to live in a refugee camp, and in 1981 he emigrated to the United States and settled in Maryland. The sixty-two-year-old artist now lives in Cold Spring, New York, where he has a gallery in his house and a sculpture garden in his backyard. Oeur is a self-taught artist and poet. He was trained as a stone conservator and worked as a restorer of stone architecture. He has returned to visit Cambodia many times and has often visited the ancient Hindu and Buddhist temples of Angkor, where he studied the styles and carving techniques employed by ancient Khmer artists. Stone is his main focus, although he also works in other media: wood, metal, and paper. His stone sculptures are the most remarkable. They are organic in their content and formal composition. An example of Oeur’s artistic rendering of trauma is a stone sculpture called Snarm, of which he created six different versions in beige-and-black granite rock. The version I discuss here, Snarm #6, dated to 2006, is made of granite, and measures 7 × 3 × 2.5 inches (plate 11).68 It was commissioned by the Andres Institute of Art. Paul Andres, engineer and innovator, advocate for integrative medicine, and CEO of World Medicine, founded the institute and gave it a public face on a 140-acre property on Big Bear Mountain in Brookline, New Hampshire, in 1996. The property is Andres’ residence as well as a sculpture park.69 He wanted to have modern sculptures by artists from all over the world installed in the natural landscape surrounding his property. A total of seventy-two sculptures are currently installed there, of
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which Oeur’s Snarm #6 is one.70 It is abstract, and at first glance is reminiscent of work by the late Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi (1904– 1988). The concept and intention, however, are original and concern the legacy of the American bombing of Cambodia. To this end, Oeur inscribed a piece of stone with the same title as that of the sculpture: Snarm is a Cambodian word that means scar. . . . The scars of war that fade . . . but do not heal. Snarm is an abstract work that depicts a realistic life and spirit so real and surreal. Snarm inscribes shallow . . . and deep visible marks upon faces and bodies for eyes to see. Who knows how deep . . . snarm harms’ snarm’s way upon the living spirits of you and me . . . ? Close your eyes . . . look at snarm . . . and . . . please tell me, tell yourself, and tell the world of what you see!!!71
The artist drilled many holes in the body of the sculpture. Some are broad, some smaller and deeper. The artist told me in an interview that the marks he inscribed on the broken and incomplete sculpture of Snarm #6 were inspired by the bullet holes that he observed on the walls and pillars of the twelfth-century temple of Angkor Wat, left during the civil war fought between the Khmer Rouge and the Khmer Republic (1970–1975), and by bomb craters left by the American bombing (1965–1973). In addition, Oeur said: “The incomplete and broken body of the sculpture was inspired by handicapped Cambodians, the victims of war, and other visual legacies of the war: bombs, bullets, and landmines. They are wounded. The war obliged them to sacrifice one (or more) of their legs or arms. Their bodies are both broken and scarred.” 72 One could also interpret Oeur’s Snarm #6 metaphorically as collective displaced and traumatic scars, signs of the incomplete and broken Cambodian sense of self and cultural identity. Many wounded bodies and psyches have emigrated to the diaspora in the United States and France in the aftermath of the American bombing and the Khmer Rouge genocide. Snarm #6 is thus an embodiment of the obdurate scars that the secret bombing of Cambodia left on the land and inscribed on the bodies and psyches of her people in the diaspora. Furthermore, the presence of such an important visual marker of collective Cambodian trauma in a forest setting on a rather remote mountain in New Hampshire is apropos: hidden sculpture, an embodiment
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of scars, reminds us that trauma is paradoxically (in)visible.73 In many instances, it is psychologically repressed, and its physical and psychic wounds are hidden away like the bomb craters that are found scattered in the rice fields and jungles of Cambodia. In an interview, Oeur discussed a similar piece of sculpture with the same title—Snarm—that he kept in his studio at home: “This piece, I called it snarm . . . you can see the scars. This piece feels incomplete. It’s part this and part that. Into how many sides did the bullets and the bombs [enter the body]? No matter what, this stone, this snarm sculpture still stands up. It refuses to fall down.” 74 Clearly, the artist’s abrupt verbal articulation mirrors the broken forms of his sculpture. In brief, Oeur’s Snarm is an embodiment of a scarred resilience. I conclude this chapter with the lyrics of a song of resistance and resilience sung by a “mad” man named Korb that profoundly captures what I call scarred resilience. Korb was a Khmer man who was captured in 1978 and jailed by the Khmer Rouge in Kraing Ta Chan prison in Takeo Province.75 According to surviving records, Korb was initially “normal,” but after ten days in prison, he began to whistle and sing the following song loudly: O Khmers with black blood, Now the eight-year Buddhist prophecy is being fulfilled. Vietnam is the elder brother Kampuchea is the younger. If we do not follow Vietnamese as our elder brothers There will be nothing left of the Khmer this time but ashes. O Khmers with black blood Servants of the Chinese Killing your own nation. Now you Americans have the upper hand You must repay the Khmer quickly, Because the Khmer have strived and struggled for a long time. Don’t bring back the wicked B-52s to pay us back. That’s not enough. Bring atomic bombs. That is the repayment needed. Because the Khmers are building one hundred houses at a time.
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O Khmers with black blood There will be nothing left of the Khmer this time but ashes. O Damreay Romeas mountains The timber is all gone now. No forest, no rocks any more. There can only be ashes left, Because the Americans are paying Kampuchea back with blood. Only garlic [scallions?] remains.76 Korb’s song has been quoted in both William Shawcross’ and Ben Kiernan’s writings, but the imagery and visual metaphors in the lyrics have yet to be analyzed. I concur with William Shawcross, who wrote that “Indeed, the madness of Korb’s verses seems both to symbolize and to describe the anguished vortex into which Cambodia was thrust in the 1970s.” 77 It is ironic, moreover, that a voice of reason is embedded in the swan song of a prisoner who has gone insane. More important, the lyrics capture elements that are culturally specific to Cambodia. First, the eight-year Buddhist prophecy refers to the Pŭtth Tŭmneay, a local Buddhist prophetic text written in Khmer that many Cambodians believe predicted the disaster and damage done to Cambodia by the Khmer Rouge regime.78 Second, the bombing destroyed and reduced everything to ashes, and the only thing that remained were scallions. It is worth pointing out here that the Khmer word ktim is a generic term for all vegetables related to the onion family, but in this case, the songwriter and poet is probably referring specifically to scallions or green onions, because in Cambodian villages where the bombing hit the hardest, villagers grew scallions in pots or raised beds outside their houses. It is a vegetable that grows all year round, and Khmers garnish their dishes with them. In brief, the bombs destroyed and burnt down all the houses except for these green onions. Another possible reference is to social class. The elites who inhabited these houses are all dead, and only the invincible and resilient green scallions that metaphorically stand for poor people sur vive.79 Ironically, in the postwar period, villagers in both Cambodia and Laos use the bombshell casings as containers for growing scallions.80 In sum, we have seen three generations of Cambodian artists, Chanthou Oeur (1952), Leang Sekong (1970), and Vandy Rattana (1980), whose works address the legacy of the US bombing of Cambodia. Oeur’s sculptures
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are visual markers of the indelible scars left by the war and testaments to both his fortitude and his hope for the healing of trauma in the Cambodian community at home and in the diaspora. On the other hand, Leang believes in the power of his art to go beyond visualization and embodiment; it transforms his mother’s (and by extension, all Cambodians’) devastating experiences of the American bombing into peace and reconciliation through the lens of what I have called local Khmer Buddhist magic realism. Last, Vandy, who belongs to the “post-memory” generation,81 and who considers the photographs in his Bomb Pond series to be “portraits of physical scars” of the damaged landscape, reclaims a “true” version of history by giving visibility to and thus exposing this violent chapter in Cambodian history and its political entanglements. Vandy’s interpretation of Cambodian history was influenced by Vandy Kaonn, a Cambodian historian and philosopher whose writings he admires: Why do orphans never stop searching for their parents? History is identity. Sometimes I live completely in the past, recalling the images of my childhood stealing fruit and watching movies, or more difficult times. History is a tool to find things we don’t even know we are looking for. . . . The institutional constructions of social memory break. Identity falls apart and we must reconstruct a more painful one, but a real one.82
Indeed, this alternative view of “official” versions of history contributed to the artist’s reclaiming of cultural history and, by extension, of Cambodian national identity. More important, for Vandy the reclaiming of an alternative narrative of modern Cambodian history provides a much needed form of knowledge that makes it possible, not only for the artist as an individual, but also for the traumatized Cambodian nation, to go on living. This creation of a revised history is the starting point for the healing of trauma left by the American bombing of Cambodia and the subsequent genocide. All these artists’ perspectives are testimonies to resilience, albeit a scarred resilience.
Plate 1. Mak Remissa, Footprints from the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia (color digital print, 2017). Courtesy of Mak Remissa.
Plate 2. Amy Lee Sanford, Broken (glass and glue, 2010). Courtesy of Long Chean.
Plate 3. Amy Lee Sanford, Full Circle, Performance Day 5 (2012). Courtesy of Amy Lee Sanford.
Plate 4. Amy Lee Sanford, Suspended (installation, copper, monofilament, audio track, and light filter, 2006). Photo by David Binder.
Plate 5. Amy Lee Sanford, Suspended (detail of plate 4). Photo by Stanford Chong.
Plate 6. Vandy Rattana, “Takeo,” Bomb Ponds Series (digital C-print, 90 × 105 cm, 2009). Courtesy of Vandy Rattana.
(right) Plate 8. Leang Seckon, Samput Mean Domguon (Heavy Skirt; mixed media on canvas, 2010). Courtesy of Leang Seckon.
(above) Plate 7. Leang Seckon, Samput Pkha Meas (Golden Flower Skirt; mixed media on canvas, 150 cm × 130 cm, 2010). Courtesy of Leang Seckon.
Plate 9. Samput Bohbaouey (Flickering Skirt; mixed media on canvas, 2010). Courtesy of Leang Seckon.
Plate 10. Leang Seckon, Samput Rohait (Torn Skirt; mixed media on canvas, 2010). Courtesy of Leang Seckon.
Plate 11. Chanthou Oeur, Snarm #6 (7´ × 3´ × 2.5´, granite rock, 2006), The Andres Institute of Art, New Hampshire. Courtesy of Lee A. Venuti, Leviathan Media.
Plate 12. Im Chan, Portrait of Pol Pot (wood carving, 1977).
Plate 13. Mold for Pol Pot’s Portrait (cement, 1977).
Plate 14. Busts of Pol Pot (cement, 1977).
Plate 15. Sugar palm trees and rice field, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2017.
Plate 16. Leang Seckon, The Elephant and the Blood Pond, 2013.
Portraits of a Dictator Khmer Rouge Ideology and the Politics of Aesthetics
With films, too, the harvest is glorious. There is grain. There are these calm, detrimental faces like in a painting, a poem. At last I see the revolution they so promised us, it exists only on film. . . . We understand the Khmer Rouge by watching their footage. Pol Pot forges a reality conformant with his desires. Even nature must conform. —Rithy Panh1
The Angkar has [the many] eyes of a pineapple. —Khmer Rouge slogan2
In the previous two chapters, I discussed trauma through baksbat and snarm and the production of visual culture in contemporary Cambodia. Naturally, atrocity of this magnitude did great damage to the cultural identity and dignity of the Cambodian nation and its diaspora. The next two chapters will address issues of cultural identity and the nation in post-genocide Cambodia. This chapter will interrogate the roles that visual images played in promoting Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology and national identity. The Khmer Rouge regime used political songs to promote the ideal of a classless society, an agrarian utopia advocating both equality of labor and uniformity. In addition, slogans were used as instruments to intimidate those who opposed this ideology. They were circulated as part of visual surveillance—a panoptic threat to keep the population under control, especially the “new people,” the urban dwellers who were forced out of their homes in the cities and relocated to the countryside throughout Cambodia, where they were forced to farm and some were sent to labor camps. The Khmer Rouge claimed to have “liberated” these city dwellers from the
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tyranny of capitalism. The slogan cited in the epigraph to this chapter suggests that Angkar, the faceless organization, watched every move you made. Indeed, words were weapons used to threaten anyone who dared to challenge the rules and regulations dictated by the state. As I discussed in my introduction, the cruel policy of kamtech has destroyed and erased cultural memory of the previous political and cultural regimes. Moreover, it was probably no coincidence that the date on which the Khmer Rouge invaded the city of Phnom Penh and put an end to the Khmer Republic was April 17, 1975, the last day of the Khmer New Year. Although it is ex post facto because the Khmer Rouge never used it, it is perhaps useful to think of their implementation of a new ideology and cultural production as starting at “Year Zero.”3 In December 1989 eleven journalists from Southeast Asia participated in a tour of Cambodia. Their visit was sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee and hosted by the Association of Cambodian Journalists. The group of Southeast Asian journalists conducted an interview with Chheng Phon (1930–2016), Minister of Information and Culture. Chheng was then in his sixties and had survived the Khmer Rouge genocide. One of the issues he touched upon was the challenge he was faced with after the Khmer Rouge regime eradicated the arts and culture belonging to the previous regimes: Pol Pot wanted to destroy everything associated with culture. He wanted to annihilate all things belonging to the past and start entirely new. Therefore, he destroyed our culture atom by atom. He wanted people to cut off all their memories of the past. The Khmer Rouge aimed at the atomization of families, cutting children off from their parents, saying that they belonged to the “organization”—Angka[r]—and filling them up with new conceptions.4
In this chapter I would like to raise and try to answer the following overarching questions: If artists, arts, and culture belonging to the previous political regimes were considered to be products of capitalist ideology and thus subject to elimination under the policy of kamtech, what roles did art and visual images play in shaping Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology? What new ideas did Angkar inculcate in teenagers with impressionable young minds under Democratic Kampuchea? My arguments are threefold. First, I contend that the Khmer Rouge regime was fearful of Western media and so did everything they could to hide internal revolutionary activities from the outside world between 1975 and 1979. Second, I argue that the
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Khmer Rouge regime’s choice of visual media, photography, and film for documentation, surveillance, and political propaganda explains why it preferred photorealism as the preferred style of painting for Pol Pot’s portraits. I analyze the biographies and autobiographies of three visual artists who survived the Tuol Sleng prison: Im Chan, Vann Nath, and Bou Meng. Their published works shed light on the intersection between the Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology and Pol Pot’s portraits to promote a corrective ideology that ultimately identifies the leader as an individual actor. Thus, I trace the evolution from a state-engineered panopticon known simply as “Angkar”to a photorealistic portrait of the Khmer Rouge leader. I suggest that the portraits of Pol Pot created by these artists can be read as embodiments of the collective Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideals. In the last section of this chapter, I argue that the visual culture produced under the Khmer Rouge concurs with what Walter Benjamin theorized as the politics of aesthetics under communism.
The Khmer Rouge’s Censoring of Media The Khmer Rouge employed political slogans and songs to promote their revolutionary ideology. However, as a modern political regime, they were aware of the significance of film as a visual medium that could help promote their revolutionary ideology. In addition, photography was used as an instrument for the surveillance and documentation of those who were considered enemies of the state. In short, the regime understood the roles that both still and moving images might play in shaping the revolution. The media, especially Western media, were considered a threat, intruding into internal affairs and political activities; the Khmer Rouge felt they could not risk being exposed to the outside world. Not surprisingly, we have only a few images of Democratic Kampuchea, a brutal regime that lasted for four years. As discussed in chapter 1, Roland Neveu, a French photojournalist, managed to take a few rolls of black-and-white as well as color film a few days before the Khmer Rouge regime put an end to the Khmer Republic (1970–1975) on April 17, 1975. Neveu reproduced the photographs in his 2007 book, The Fall of Phnom Penh: 17 April 1975. The photographer was in Phnom Penh when the Khmer Rouge entered the city. He was initially allowed to take photographs, but at one point the soldiers turned against him and confis cated a few rolls of his films. However, he managed to hide the remaining rolls. As a result, Neveu’s rare and precious photographs were able to capture
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a city in chaos: his few photographs of people on the streets facing an un known future are the only images in existence of the events that took place that day. In his book Neveu shared an insightful observation that is worth recounting: unlike changes of political regime elsewhere in the world, where the victorious new regime would invite journalists to a press conference to announce their presence as the new government, the Khmer Rouge never did this. In fact, Neveu saved a roll of film to photograph that conventionally anticipated event, but it never happened. In retrospect, the Khmer Rouge had every intention of keeping the Western media out. During the four years the regime was in power, it was very conscious of controlling the media and censoring outsider access to images of a closed country. In her 2010 book About to Die: How News Images Move the Public, Barbie Zelizer wrote: In 1978, a CBS News documentary gave a certain form to the atrocities, but it offered so little visual information that The New York Times remarked that “The Cambodia story does not lend itself to easy ‘visual.’ ” The documentary, said the Times, provided pictures that were “largely unremarkable. Deserted city streets are contrasted to crowded rice and salt fields, and a few factories.” One year later a second documentary on PBS generated a similar impression. “Cambodia is proving a difficult subject for television to cover.”5
Indeed, the Khmer Rouge regime was very aware of how visual images could expose their activities and that the “wrong” portrayal of the regime in the media could lead to uninvited scrutiny from Western countries. Because the Khmer Rouge had a great diplomatic relationship with Communist countries in the Eastern bloc, there is some color film footage shot by the Yugoslav Radio Television team in 1978 that shows the ghost city of Phnom Penh deserted of its urban population and images of people digging canals and building dams. A clip of it is uploaded on YouTube.6 The shots alternate between an empty city and revolutionaries dressed in black with red-andwhite checkered kramas wrapped around their heads, digging away, suggesting that the revolution was successful. The urban capitalists are shown participating in the construction of an agrarian society under Democratic Kampuchea: this is the ideal image the Khmer Rouge regime wanted to project to the world. In December 1978 the Khmer Rouge allowed a few, very select jour nalists to visit Democratic Kampuchea for two weeks. Three Western jour
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nalists were permitted to enter the country: two Americans, Elizabeth Becker and Richard Dudman; and one British subject, Malcolm Caldwell. (Caldwell was a strong supporter of the Khmer Rouge regime. Ironically, he was murdered by Khmer Rouge soldiers during his visit.)7 Not surprisingly, it was a highly choreographed tour of Democratic Kampuchea. The journalists were accompanied by armed guards and were allowed to take photographs on this “bubble tour,” wherein they visited sites that were approved by the regime. Elizabeth Becker took some color photographs on the tour that captured the deserted city of Phnom Penh, empty buildings, and houses. In addition, one of her photographs shows an abandoned central market with overgrown trees.8 The Khmer Rouge regime came to an end more than ten days later when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia; so Pol Pot, fearful of Vietnamese aggression, was trying to get Europe and the United States to intervene and stop the Vietnamese action. Interestingly, the officially approved images of Democratic Kampuchea captured in both Elizabeth Becker’s photographs and those of the Yugoslav Radio Television team mirror Khmer Rouge propaganda black-and-white film footage that the regime used to promote its revolutionary ideology. In recent years, black-and-white and color Khmer Rouge film footage have been excavated from the archive, and selected ones are woven into the narratives of documentary and feature films about the lives of survivors and perpetrators of this brutal regime. The Khmer Rouge film footage I reference in this chapter is from Rithy Panh’s films The Missing Picture (2013) and Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell (2011). In addition, I also viewed Khmer Rouge film footage used in Lida Chan and Guillaume Suon’s Red Wedding (2012). Of course, I understand that these films have been edited twice: first by the Khmer Rouge filmmaker, and then by Panh, Chan, and Suon. My goal here is not to look at all the Khmer Rouge propaganda films in the archive, but rather simply to assess the official and ideal filmic images of the revolution that the regime wanted to project to the people of Democratic Kampuchea and to the outside world. In the films, the revolution is embodied by young people in Khmer Rouge uniforms: black pajamas, shoes made of rubber tires, and a krama, a red-and-white or blue-and-white checkered scarf wrapped around their necks or heads (I discuss the significance of the krama as a visual marker of Khmer identity at length in chapter 4.) In these idealized film images, young male and female revolutionaries are shown engaged in tasks of collec tive labor such as harvesting and transporting rice and digging and carrying baskets of dirt to build dams or irrigation canals.
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Unlike socialist or communist revolutions elsewhere that were based on proletariat and industrial revolutions, the Khmer Rouge wanted to build a communist utopia that was grounded in agrarian society. In fact, the regime discouraged the use of machinery for farming and the construction of dams and canals. In short, not unlike Raymond Williams’ discussion of an idyllic representation of the countryside outside the bounds of the ideologically polluted city, the Khmer Rouge wanted to build an agrarian society based on a much earlier economic model of production.9 Of course, in reality people were dying from hunger, overwork, illness, and executions. For exam ple, a Khmer Rouge cameraman named Ang Saroeun was sent to the front to shoot film footage and photograph dike-construction projects. Instead, he focused his camera on starving people. For making that decision— namely, pointing his camera in the wrong direction—he was arrested and sent to S-21 prison, where he was tortured and eventually executed in 1976.10 Ang was a victim of kamtech: there are no traces of his story in the archive, because footage of his short black-and-white film was considered deviant and a major violation of the ideal image of the revolution. But a clip of Ang’s film is reproduced in Rithy Panh’s film The Missing Picture (2013). Ang’s film shows skinny laborers digging and balancing baskets of dirt on their shoulders while obviously dying from hunger and exhaustion. A man wearing a Mao hat with his back facing the viewers is a kamaphibal, a cadre who monitored the laborers; it was he who determined how much food they would get at the end of the day. Khmer Rouge propaganda films never show forced labor—Ang’s ideologically incorrect exposé cost him his life. Clearly, the Khmer Rouge understood the full potential of film to promote their revolutionary ideology. I agree with Rithy Panh, who said that they promised a wonderful revolution, but it only came true (that is, only existed) in filmic representation: “With films, too, the harvest is glorious. There is grain. There are these calm, smiling faces like in a painting, a poem. At last I see the revolution they so promised us, it exists only on film. . . . We understand the Khmer Rouge by watching their footage. Pol Pot forges a reality conformant with his desires. Even Nature must conform.”11 In sum, the Khmer Rouge revolution achieved its ideal only in celluloid. Photography, by contrast, was employed as an instrument of surveillance and documentation by the Khmer Rouge regime. Much has been written about the black-and-white mug shots of prisoners taken at Tuol Sleng or S-21—“S” standing for santebal, the Khmer word for “state security organization,” and “21” coming from the walkie-talkie number of the former
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prison chief, Nath.12 I will not address here the details of the use and abuse of this collection of prisoner mug shots and their reproduction and circulation in the post-genocide period.13 Instead, I will access the voices of the young photographer Nhem En and other photographers who worked at Tuol Sleng on the historical intentionality behind these photographs and how they shed light on our understanding of the Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology.14 My discussion of the black-and-white photographs from S-21 benefits greatly from David Chandler’s Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison (1999) and Michelle Caswell’s Archiving the Un speakable: Silencing, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia (2014).15 According to Chandler, Suos Thi was the director of the photography section at S-21 and supervised five members of junior staff. Nhem En was one of the photographers who probably took the majority of these mug shots. He is the subject of Steven Okazaki’s 2008 documentary film The Conscience of Nhem En.16 Nhem was a village boy from Kompong Cham who was recruited by the Khmer Rouge at the age of ten. He claims to have been sent to China to study photography in 1975–1976. He returned to work at Tuol Sleng at the age of sixteen. A total of over six thousand photographs were discovered at the prison soon after the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia on January 7, 1979.17 More mug shots have been discovered over the years. In 2012 an anonymous woman donated approximately 1,427 photographs the size of passport portrait photos to the Documentation Center of Cambodia.18 In sum, photographs of executed prisoners continue to surface. In an interview with the French-Cambodian film director Rithy Panh, Nhem tells us what constituted a good mug shot and why: Rithy Panh: What makes a photograph good? Nhem En: The pupils of the eyes have to be in sharp focus. Panh: But why? Nhem: (Staring intensely at Panh): So they can be recognized if they escape.19
First, it is clear from this interview that under the Khmer Rouge regime photography was primarily an instrument of surveillance; one can interpret the camera as extension of Angkar, the “many-eyed pineapple.”20 Second, photography was used to capture idealized images of people engaging in the process of building of a new nation. It was used, moreover, to promote the political propaganda of collective labor and communal spirit under D emocratic
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Kampuchea. Most important, however, photography was selected to perform as the regime’s visual apparatus because it lent itself to what Walter Benjamin called “mechanical reproduction.”21 I suggest that the Khmer Rouge regime’s use of photography to reproduce images of bodies carrying out repetitive tasks of labor provided visual cement for its narrow ideology. In addition, the regime’s use of photography reinforces Benjamin’s arguments about the politicization of art under communism.
Portraits of a Dictator and His Ideology Photography as mimesis and reproduction applied also to the role that the so-called fine arts, namely painting and sculpture, played in promoting the Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology. We can see this propaganda in state portraits of Pol Pot. Furthermore, we can trace an evolution from representations of the faceless organization known as Angkar to portraits of the Khmer Rouge leader in the later 1970s in the visual arts. I contend, moreover, that this later manifestation of Pol Pot as a metonym for the regime reveals more than just an evolving cult of personality: it is an embodiment of change in Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology. Here I draw upon descriptions mentioned in biographies written by prisoner artists who survived S-21—namely Vann Nath and Bou Meng—and an interview with Im Chan. First, however, I would like to provide a sketch of Pol Pot’s biography before looking at the circumstances under which these prisoner artists carried out their order to execute Pol Pot’s portraits. The biography of Saloth Sar (aka Pol Pot), leader of Democratic Kampuchea, was shrouded in secrecy. He was born in the village of Prey Sbau, located in Kompong Thom Province, in 1925. He came from a farming community. When he was six years old, his older brother, Loth Suong, who was married to the late Chea Samy (1919–1994), a court dancer and teacher, took him to live with his family in Phnom Penh. Sar’s sister Roeung was also a court dancer and became one of King Monivong Sisowath’s (1875– 1941) concubines. Thus Sar and his family members had very close connections to the court.22 Sar studied at the Royal Buddhist temple of Wat Botum in Phnom Penh. In 1950 he was awarded a scholarship to go and study in France. He failed his examinations in Paris because he was purportedly devoting more of his time to politics, especially the Communist Party, than to studying. According to Khmer writer Soth Polin, however, Saloth Sar was very fond of the poetry of Paul Verlaine, Arthur Rimbaud,
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and Alfred-Victor, comte de Vigny. It is clear that he was well read in French literature.23 Sar was one of the top leaders of the Khmer Rouge regime, but he did not officially become prime minister of Democratic Kampuchea until May 13, 1976.24 He officially changed his name to Pol Pot in 1977, and it was in the same year that Pol Pot emerged as “Brother Number One” of Democratic Kampuchea. Before that year, the majority of the population knew the Khmer Rouge only as Angkar, the faceless organization.25 When the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia on January 7, 1979, the remaining members of the Khmer Rouge regime retreated to the area of Anlong Veng, located on the border between Cambodia and Thailand, and Pol Pot continued to live in Anlong Veng until his death in 1998. He apparently died a natural death at the age of seventy-three.26 Interestingly, it was in 1977, the year Pol Pot emerged as the face of Democratic Kampuchea, that prisoner artists at Tuol Sleng were ordered to create portraits of “Brother Number One.”27 As the tribunal court trial progressed, we absorbed more information about the numbers of prisoners and survivors of S-21. Prisoners taken there numbered approximately between 12,272 and 20,000.28 However, a recent statistic published by the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC) claimed that the total number of prisoners held at Tuol Sleng was 12,273.29 Moreover, it has been accepted and repeated in the media for over thirty years that only seven prisoners survived Tuol Sleng. This inaccuracy stems from a color photograph shown in a 1981 film titled Die Angkar (The Angkar) produced by Studio H&S of the former East Germany. A color photograph was shown in the film depicting the “seven male survivors” of S-21 (figure 1). In the photograph reproduced here, from left to right, the seven men are Chum Mey, Ruy Neakong, Im Chan, Vann Nath, Bou Meng, Phan Than Chan, and Ung Pech. Ung became the first director of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. Archival evidence has emerged, however, suggesting that twenty-three prisoners survived past 1979. We know that two of these twenty-three survivors have since died; the others are missing or do not want to be publicly identified as Tuol Sleng victims.30 In addition, when the Vietnamese entered the prison on January 10, 1979, they found five child survivors.31 Facts and figures continue to evolve as we uncover more archival documents and conduct more oral interviews with both survivors and perpetrators of the regime. Nevertheless, I have been continually intrigued by the fact that, of the male survivors who came forward since 1979, three were artists: Im Chan, Vann Nath, and Bou Meng. Vann Nath and Bou Meng have written
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Figure 1. Anonymous, “The seven survivors of Tuol Sleng Prison” (color print, 1980). Left to right: Chum Mey, Ruy Neakong, Im Chan, Vann Nath, Bou Meng, Phan Than Chan, and Ung Pech.
their autobiographies, narrating their ordeals at S-21. In their autobiographies they mentioned that as part of their conditions and circumstances they were asked to create portraits of Pol Pot. It is specifically through their narratives and descriptions that I trace the evolution from the invisible surveillance known through the terrifying slogan “Angkar had the eyes of a pineapple” to a photorealistic portrait of the Khmer Rouge leader. I suggest that the portraits of Pol Pot these artists created can be read as embodiments of the collective Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideals. As I discussed earlier, the Khmer Rouge opposed any reference to the arts and culture belonging to previous political regimes, but it was necessary to find visual artists skilled in creating art in order to promote the face of their new revolutionary leader. As of this writing, we know there were a total of five visual artists who worked on creating portraits of Pol Pot: two painters, Bou Meng and Vann Nath, and three sculptors, Pol Touch, Khun, and Im Chan. Little is known about Touch and Khun, whose names were mentioned in Vann Nath and Bou Meng’s autobiographies. According to Bou, Touch came from Kompong Cham Province. He completed an undergraduate degree at the Faculty of Fine Arts. Both Touch and Khun studied
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studio art in France and excelled in the medium of sculpture. According to Bou, all artists escaped Tuol Sleng prison when the Vietnamese invaded Cambodia on January 7, 1979, but it is not clear what happened to Khun and Touch after they escaped.32 The three artists who survived and returned to work after the genocide are Im Chan, Vann Nath, and Bou Meng. Im Chan was born in Kandal Province in 1942 and passed away in February 2000. He unfortunately did not leave us any autobiography, but there are interviews and an obituary that tell us of his ordeals at Tuol Sleng prison.33 Peter Maguire managed to interview him in 1994.34 We know that Chan came from a family of farmers in Kandal Province and studied traditional silver making and wood carving at the School of Arts in Phnom Penh. He was one of the artists who made all the wooden carvings for the Royal Palace. In 1976, he moved to Siem Reap to participate in an art conservation project at the temple of Angkor. Under the Khmer Rouge regime he worked in the Ministry of Industry, where he made parts for machinery. Subsequently, Chan and his wife were arrested and sent to Prey Sar prison, a labor camp located outside of Phnom Penh. He tried to escape, but was captured and sent to Tuol Sleng.35 From interrogation at S-21, the prison guards found out that he was “King Sihanouk’s carver.”36 Chan’s wife was executed in 1977. Duch postponed Chan’s execution because he needed him to create busts of Pol Pot in cement by watching film clips and looking at photographs of Pol Pot’s face.37 Chan naturally lived in fear that he would be killed as soon as he finished his sculptures: “They tried to console me because they wanted their statues. They knew if they treated me badly they would not get their statues.”38 Apparently, one of the prison guards said to Chan, “Do you know that one day, when you finish the sculpture, you will be killed?”39 The problem remained: in 1977, there was still a need for artists to create portraits of an emerging leader whom none of the prison artists or guards had ever met or seen in person. As a woodcarver, Chan carved portraits of Pol Pot on wooden bas-reliefs, and one of them survived. It is now in storage at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. When it was on display in one of the rooms, probably a visitor vandalized it by putting an X in black ink over Pol Pot’s face (plate 12).40 Unsurprisingly, the artist did not sign the portrait as it was a collective project, but one can surmise that Chan created it, because he specialized in wood carving. Likewise, the three-dimensional cement busts of Pol Pot were a collective project. According to Bou Meng, it was Pol Touch who created the mold for Pol Pot’s bust; Vann Nath and Im Chan subsequently helped to shape the sculpture.41 Two of the molds have survived and are now kept in storage at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.42
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These molds are made of cement and are comprised of multiple parts that require assembly (plate 13). They are somewhat damaged, but there is a stamp on one of them with two dates: “September 1977” and “Engraved on January 6, 1978.” Judging from these dates, it is possible to assume that the mold was created in September 1977 and the portraits probably mass- produced starting on January 6, 1978. A few of Pol Pot’s busts have survived and are now on display in one of the rooms at the museum. Some of them have been vandalized by visitors, who also inscribed graffiti on the walls of the rooms in the museum expressing their opposition to and denouncement of the cruelty of the dead dictator. Although it might sound contradictory coming from an art historian, I am more interested in the politicization of politics and ideology in the descriptions and narratives about these portraits and their role in promoting Khmer Rouge revolutionary ideology than in the actual objects themselves. I believe that political meanings are embedded in the narratives and descriptions given by the surviving artists—that is the most potent sight/site of analysis. Furthermore, I concur with what Michael Baxandall, an art historian, wrote: “We do not explain pictures: we explain remarks about pictures—or rather, we explain pictures only in so far as we have considered them under some verbal description or specification.”43 I have therefore deliberately chosen to take a citational approach by analyzing long descriptions and narratives provided to us by surviving artists. These painted, photographic, and sculptural portraits of Pol Pot were in keeping with a tradition of communist leaders in the Soviet Union and China. Judging from a film still taken from an undated Khmer Rouge propaganda film, it seems that the Khmer Rouge initially subscribed to a Marxist-Leninist Communist revolutionary ideology, and so the official portraits they sought to emulate were those of Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Vladimir Lenin, and Joseph Stalin: in other words, the focus was on a cult of personality, with the portrait of Pol Pot firmly at the center as the embodiment of revolutionary ideology. Due to the especially close relationship between the Khmer Rouge and China, as the regime evolved, the model and inspiration for the portrait of its leader seem to have come from China. Pol Pot was probably trying to imitate portraits of Mao Zedong. We know of artistic connections between the Khmer Rouge and China from the autobiography of Bou Meng, another imprisoned artist who was arrested and sent to S-21 along with his wife in 1977. Bou was born in Kompong Cham Province in 1941. A coup d’état headed by General Lon Nol and Prince Sirik Matak put an end to King Norodom Sihanouk’s mon-
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archy. King Sihanouk and members of the Khmer royal family, who were visiting China at the time, continued to live in Beijing. The newly formed Khmer Republic controlled the cities and urban areas of Cambodia, while the Kampuchea National Unification Front controlled most of the countryside. As the United States continued to bomb villages, Khmer villagers were easily recruited to join the Front. Meanwhile, the deposed Khmer monarch encouraged villagers to join the resistance via radio broadcasts from Peking (Beijing); the end goal being the king’s return to Cambodia to restore peace. Bou Meng and his wife were two villagers who joined the Kampuchea National Unification Front in 1971 and journeyed into the “Marxist jungle” to fight.44 On August 16, 1977, they were both arrested for crimes against Angkar and were transferred to Tuol Sleng prison. Bou’s wife was executed, but his life was spared because he was a painter; he possessed exactly the artistic skills the Khmer Rouge required. Before joining the resistance move ment against the Khmer Republic, Bou had been a self-taught billboard painter of posters and billboards advertising Cambodian cinema in the 1960s. It is worth quoting at length the vivid description and narrative that Bou provides in his autobiography, in which he details how he was recruited for his work at Tuol Sleng: About two weeks after my interrogation began, two eighteen-year-old cadres walked around S-21 looking for prisoners who could paint pictures. They needed someone to paint a portrait of Comrade Secretary Pol Pot. “Can anyone paint pictures?” . . . I raised my hand and told them that I could paint. I volunteered in the hope that I could get enough food to live for a while longer. “If the portrait is not lifelike, you will be dead,” they warned me. He [Comrade Chief Duch] ordered one of his messengers to bring a picture of Lenin, a Soviet communist leader. He asked me to paint a lifelike picture of Lenin. I felt that I was not the first person whose ability was tested by Comrade Chief. I did not know what happened to those who failed. He [Duch] pulled a photo from an envelope. It was about 15 cm wide and 18 cm long. Before he gave it to me, he said, “You need to paint this picture very carefully because it is a very important picture. It will be used in the near future.” I saw that it was a photo of Pol Pot. The Comrade Chief sometimes called Pol Pot “Brother Secretary” or “Brother Number One.” He paid great respect to the picture. He told me to repaint the blackand-white picture so that it would be 1.50 m wide and 1.80 m long.
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“But if the picture is not lifelike, you will be dead,” He warned. “I can do it, brother!” I promised him. I saw Khmer and Chinese script on the back of the envelope. I could not read Chinese, but the Khmer read “Spring Photo Shop, Sieng Hai City, China.” Three months later, I finished one picture of Comrade Pol Pot. After that, Duch ordered a photographer to take a picture of the portrait. It was developed as small as the original photo of Pol Pot. Duch asked his bodyguards to identify which one was the real photo of Pol Pot and which was the picture I painted. They could not identify them and said the two pictures look[ed] very similar. Duch was satisfied.45
From Bou’s narrative, it is clear that the preferred style of painting was photorealism. “Photorealism” was a term coined by Louis K. Meisel in 1969 in referring to paintings that appear to be replications of photographs.46 The term “photorealism” subsequently appeared in print for the first time in an exhibition catalog featuring twenty-two realists and their works at the Whitney Museum in New York in 1970.47 The criteria by which Duch judged whether a portrait painting of Pol Pot was good or bad were based on the degree of likeness and resemblance to the photograph portraits he gave artists to copy. In other words, the artist’s hold on his own life literally depended on the mimetic illusion that he was able to create: Could he be a magician by replicating a photograph in an oil painting or pencil-and-charcoal drawing? A black-and-white copy of Bou’s portrait of Pol Pot, in pencil, is reproduced in his autobiography. As exact replication is inherent in the art of photography, it is a challenge to pinpoint the “ur” photo portrait of Pol Pot that served as the model for the prisoners’ paintings, drawings, and sculptures. However, as the portraits reproduced in different media are similar to this black-and-white headshot of Pol Pot, I suspect this photograph might be the portrait made in China that Bou Meng mentioned in his autobiography (figure 2). As there was no art school in Cambodia in 1977, the idea of photorealism as developed in the United States (or perhaps China) having had an influence on these artists is out of the question. Considering the Khmer Rouge’s prioritization of film and photography as their choice of media for their state visual apparatus, it is not surprising that the regime’s preferred style of art was photorealism. Moreover, one must account for Mao Zedong’s portraits as conceptual models for those of Pol Pot. First, as mentioned in Bou’s narrative, the envelope enclosing the photo portrait of Pol Pot bore the address of a photo studio in Beijing. Second, as discussed earlier, young pho-
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Figure 2. Bou Meng, Portrait of Pol Pot (photograph of a painting by Bou Meng based on an original black-and-white photo dated 1977, presumably taken by Nhem Em or another photographer). Collection of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, 2018.
tographers like Nhem En were sent to China to learn the technology and art of photography. Third, it is possible that the photo portrait of Pol Pot chosen as a model for prisoner-artists to replicate in painting was taken on “Brother Number One’s” visit to China on September 29, 1977.48 In fact, Bou mentioned in his autobiography that he was also asked to copy a portrait of Chairman Mao: Besides painting the pictures of Comrade Secretary Pol Pot, Duch occasionally asked me to draw pictures of Karl Marx, Lenin, and Engels. I had drawn those portraits while I was in the meaningless struggle in the jungles of the Northern Zone. Later on, Duch handed me photos of Comrade Mao Zedong, who was a great leader of the Chinese people, and asked me
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to draw them. Duch didn’t mention why he needed those paintings and I didn’t dare to ask.49
When the Khmer Rouge initially referred to their organization as “The Communist Party of Kampuchea,” they were subscribing to a form of international communism.50 Artists like Bou copied iconic portraits of socialist and communist founders and leaders such as Marx and Engels as well as Lenin and Stalin to create visual political connections and friendship—a form of homage. As the regime matured and evolved, it changed its name to “Democratic Kampuchea” in 1976;51 it follows that as part of creating its own version of communism came portraiture and the emergence of a cult of personality. In brief, it seems that Mao Zedong’s portrait entered the Khmer Rouge ideological imagination late, around 1977. While I maintain that Pol Pot’s portraits were modeled after those of Chairman Mao, I do not mean to suggest that they are similar to them in formal composition and appearance; their similarity is more on the level of ideology. Both Mao’s and Pol Pot’s portraits respectively embody national forms of communist ideals and culturally specific notions of portraiture. The Khmer Rouge had a specific, local form of photorealism when it came to the symbolic and literal embodiment of the Khmer Rouge ideology in Pol Pot’s portraits. We can access the regime’s approach to the understanding of his portraits and their revolutionary ideology through examining Vann Nath’s autobiography. Vann Nath (b. 1946) passed away on September 5, 2011.52 Like many prisoners at Tuol Sleng, he was arrested in Battambang Province on December 29, 1977, for an inexplicable reason.53 He was blindfolded, put on a truck with other prisoners, and transferred to the prison in the same year. Like Bou, Vann was a self-taught artist. Before the war, he had painted cinema placards and large billboard portraits of King Sihanouk. He excelled in the use of color, so it was a major challenge and cause of severe trepidation when Duch asked him to copy a black-and-white photo of Pol Pot: “Well, listen carefully. I want a realistic, clear and correct and noble reproduction of this photograph. Can you do that?”54 Vann’s life depended on his painting a near replica of the dictator’s photo portrait. The artist describes vividly the trials Duch put him through in the course of his execution of Pol Pot’s portrait: I started my first painting: a large portrait of Pol Pot, three meters by oneand-a half meters. They had me paint in black and white, based on the
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black-and-white photograph. I told them that I had not specialized in black-and-white painting, but they told me to experiment. My first day at work I was very nervous, but I tried not to show it outwardly. The guards were watching me through the window. I held my spirit and tried not to be afraid as I stood looking at the picture I had carefully copied from a photograph. A bit later, I had control over the main points of the picture. I used lamp soot to lightly shade it. From morning till night, I didn’t dare to leave the picture except for meals.55 . . . I turned back to my picture with my heart filled with what had just happened. I didn’t have any motivation to paint. I picked up the photograph of Pol Pot for a close look at it. Surely this photograph must be of the supreme leader of this regime, I thought. His face looked smooth and calm, but I knew he must be savage and very evil. I wondered how he could look so pleasant yet treat people so cruelly, torturing and killing people of the same Khmer blood without feeling any regret. Or was he a Khmer person? With such an appearance and complexion, he could be Chinese.56
Both Vann and Bou mentioned numerous portraits of Pol Pot that they drew in pencil and charcoal as well as painted in oil and acrylic between 1977 and the first days of 1979, but the whereabouts of these painted portraits is unknown. The large portraits that Vann created when he was imprisoned at Tuol Sleng were probably destroyed. We know that some of the cement busts were defaced or damaged by moving. As shown in this photograph (plate 14), busts of Pol Pot are on display at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. The one located in the front row on the viewer’s left has Pol Pot’s name written on it in Khmer. The name was probably inscribed on the portrait in the post-genocide period (figure 3). Vann devoted the remaining years of his life after the genocide to working as witness to the atrocities that took place at S-21, which was converted by the Vietnamese into the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in 1979. Nath continued to paint, and images he created narrating his ordeals are on display at the S-21 museum. He also participated in a reenactment of the trial the Khmer Rouge put him through in Rithy Panh’s 2003 film, S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine. A scene from the film captures Vann in the process of painting a color portrait of Pol Pot in the very room at the former prison. He is looking at a black-and-white xeroxed copy of a blackand-white photo portrait of Pol Pot. One sees a framed photograph of Duch standing in for his absence in this reenactment. As Vann paints, he con tinues to describe the process of painting and his intentions:
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Figure 3. Mold for dates inscribed at the base of the bust of Pol Pot: “September 1977; engraved on January 6, 1978.”
When I painted, sometimes I did the hair, my strokes were gentle, not abrupt, that would be disrespectful; I did light strokes, and I had to paint the face in [a] pink shade, like smooth delicate skin, as lovely as the skin of a young virgin. That would make him [Duch, the head of the prison] happy and he’d accept the painting. The plaster busts from molds were cracked sometimes. We couldn’t destroy them. We buried them. It wasn’t good seeing them smashed. We had to bury them in the well in the back [of the prison complex]. I know that lots of painters came to work for them [the Khmer Rouge at S-21]. But they were all killed. Some stayed a month or two. Others stayed for two to ten days. Their drawings weren’t appreciated. So they were executed. I survived, fortunately, because they liked my paintings. Sometimes, I think of my fate. There were many who came here. They’re dead. There’s only me left. Sometimes I think of them and it haunts me. Why them? Some painted better than I did. What a sad fate! That they couldn’t survive. All killed.57
Because black-and-white photography was familiar and thus valued by the Khmer Rouge, it is abundantly clear that all artists had to pass the test of
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photorealism. Bou had to go through a similar test in order to prove his artistic talent and skill, reinforcing the regime’s acceptance and legitimization of photorealism as its only style. Moreover, despite the regime’s stance against religion and its rejection of cultural hierarchy, the portrait was to be revered like a sacred object. It was to be handled with care and respect, similarly to the casting of a Buddha image. None of these artists or prison guards had ever met or seen Pol Pot in person, but political and cultural protocol called for utmost respect in the creation and handling of the photo portrait of their number-one leader. Ironically, like an image of the Buddha, the portrait replica stood in for the person of Pol Pot. I find Vann’s narrative describing the disposal of imperfect castings of Pol Pot busts in a well very interesting. That practice is quite similar to the ritual of discarding old and broken consecrated Buddha images, which are usually thrown into a river or placed in a storage area inside a Buddhist monastery in Cambodia. Pol Pot’s portraits were likewise considered sacred because he embodied the Khmer Rouge ideology. We see this in both film and photography. I concur with Rithy Panh, who said: A Khmer Rouge film is always a slogan, practice is worth all theories, so don’t entertain personal ideas. “He who has [the] disease of [the] former society, let him take Lenin for a pill. “ “From now on there is but one actor; it is not the people; he is the revolution, his myth must be forged.” Pol Pot lives in a hut in the jungle. He is a revolutionary, so he drinks only tea, uses an oil lamp [fish oil]. He washes himself outdoors and lives with his books, guns, and his comrades. He lives the ideology.58
Indeed, Pol Pot’s portrait is more than just its surface; the image represents the idea and ideals of a revolutionary who was committed to building a classless agrarian society and thus advocated social and economic equality as well as uniformity. This revolutionary ideology, which I argue is embodied in his portraits, existed only as an ideal; the reality was a reign of terror. The ideal image, the face of Democratic Kampuchea, had to be perfect, the leader’s skin rendered as smooth, like that of a “young virgin,” as Vann put it. It is perhaps not surprising that a teenage photographer, Nhem En, was sent to reeducation camp in 1977 because he was accused of intentionally taking bad photographs after a speck appeared on an image of Pol Pot that he had developed.59 The politicization of art and ideology under the Khmer Rouge communist regime evoked what Walter Benjamin described in his celebrated 1936 essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”:
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The logical result of Fascism is the introduction of aesthetics into political life. . . . This is evidently the consummation of “l’art pour l’art.” Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics, which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.60
For Benjamin, fascism rendered an aesthetic of politics, but under communism art is politicized. Indeed, there was a politics of aesthetics under the Khmer Rouge regime, but it is important to be mindful that the political situation and the type of communism practiced under Democratic Kampuchea in 1977 was not the type of communism that Benjamin had in mind. One might argue that the dictatorship and corruption of its self-proclaimed ideology contributed to the Khmer Rouge’s failed revolution and ended up with the murder of 1.7 million of Cambodia’s population. I concur with Benjamin, however, that under communism art is politi cized, and in the case of the Khmer Rouge, the idealized portraits of Pol Pot as the body and face of the revolutionary collective reinforced the aesthetics of a given ideology. We know, furthermore, from David Ashley’s 1995 inter view with Vann Nath, that the Khmer Rouge had even broader visions for the artistic revamping of the abandoned metropolis of Phnom Penh: Near the end we had to design a revolutionary monument. The design was first taken to Nuon Chea [Brother Number Two], who approved it, and was then supposed to be taken to Pol Pot for his approval. The monument was like those in China and Korea and featured Pol Pot at the front of a line of people with his right hand stretched skywards and his left arm grasping a copy of the revolutionary work, the Red Book. Pol Pot was the only figure depicted as a particular individual and behind him were a number of people indicating the progress of the revolutionary struggle, beginning with axes and knives and ending with abundance, with guns and B-40s. Duch said that the plan was to destroy the temple at Wat Phnom and replace it with this monument. If the Vietnamese hadn’t invaded, I think that’s what would have happened.61
We know the exact measurements of this colossal statue of Pol Pot, because Vann elaborated in his autobiography that he and his fellow artists were ordered to make a small miniature model of an eight-meter-tall concrete
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statue of Pol Pot.62 In addition, Duch had plans to have a bust of Pol Pot made of silver. The Khmer Rouge’s idea of creating a colossal statue of Pol Pot to replace the temple and stupa on top of the sacred hill of Wat Phnom, the landmark that gives its name to the city of Phnom Penh, is immensely strategic. The plan was to supplant the Buddhist site of legitimation by a new ideology. More important, the Khmer Rouge considered the city and urban area and its dwellers to be capitalists, and thus morally corrupt. It is therefore intriguing to consider the regime’s vision for restructuring the city of Phnom Penh, replacing the old sites with its own ideologically approved art and images. When Pol Pot died a natural death on April 15, 1998, his body was cremated on a pile of used furniture in the remote area of Anglong Ven, near the border of Cambodia and Thailand. As a revolutionary leader he had failed. Had the Khmer Rouge regime lasted longer, one can imagine that his body would have been embalmed and a mausoleum built for him in the city of Phnom Penh comparable to those that exist for communist leaders in China, North Korea, and Vietnam. I concur with Rithy Panh that the Khmer Rouge revolution was successful only as it is presented in visual images; perhaps that is the nature of pure political ideology. In practice, of course, the revolution was a nightmare. It was a blessing that the regime was short-lived (1975–1979), albeit not short enough to save over 1.7 million Cambodian lives. As further damage, the Khmer Rouge’s attempt to wipe out the memory of traditional Cambodian artistic and cultural institutions contributed to the destruction of long-standing Cambodian cultural identity and dignity. In the following chapters I will consider visual markers of Cambodian national identity in the period after the Khmer Rouge genocide.
Of Krama and Khmer Identity The Land Where the Sugar Palm Trees Grow
[There is] a Khmer proverb: “When culture faded away, so did the nation.” Why do we have this proverb? Because culture is part of our identity. If it disappears, our nation won’t last either. —Pich Tum Kravel1
What are the visual markers of Khmer cultural identity to which Pich Tum Kravel, a Cambodian poet and playwright, refers in the Khmer proverb quoted here? National symbols that come immediately to mind are the two twelfth-century temples at Angkor, Angkor Wat and the Bayon, and the eleventh-century temple of Preah Vihear on the current border between Cambodia and Thailand—all three of which are remnants of the “golden age” of Khmer civilization. Preah Vihear has attained this status due in large part to the border disputes between Cambodia and Thailand. Angkor Wat is displayed in white on the red-and-blue national flag of Cambodia. The Bayon as well as the twelfth-century temple of Angkor Wat are replicated in all arts media (especially sculpture, oil painting, rubbings, and photographs) and in the living rooms of Cambodian homes in Cambodia and its diaspora. Paradoxically, Angkor Wat and Preah Vihear were depicted in mural paintings in the house of Ta Mok, one of the most powerful Khmer Rouge leaders, who after 1979 maintained a stronghold in the Anlong Veng region, near the Cambodian-Thai border.2 Angkor Wat and the Bayon have been continually favored and commodified both by different political regimes in Cambodia and in the popular culture of the nation. For example, during a 2014 concert, one of Cambodia’s national pop singers, Khemerak Sereymon, appeared shirtless, revealing a tattoo of Angkor Wat on his left arm.3 However, three other visual markers of Khmer cultural identity
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emerged in the post–Khmer Rouge period: the krama, a multi-purpose checkered cotton scarf; the sugar palm tree; and the serpent. I shall postpone my discussion of the portentous symbol of the serpent princess, Neang Neak, until the next chapter. Both the krama and sugar palm (Borassus flabellifer) trees have always been part of Khmer village landscape, life, and culture. Nevertheless, the Khmer Rouge coopted the krama as a symbol of their “revolutionary” ideals. After the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodians transformed the scarf into what I call “mass adornment.” I have adapted the term from Siegfried Kracauer’s “mass ornament, “an inconspicuous surface-level ex pression of an epoch”: (“The position that an epoch occupies in the histor ical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its incon spicuous surface-level expression than from that epoch’s judgments about it.”).4 I define “mass adornment” as a symbol that comes directly from villagers, not the consumer masses. The krama as an adornment for the masses symbolizes Khmer pride, national identity, social equality, citizen ship, human rights, and democracy. More important, the krama has also become a means for “nation branding” in the age of transnationalism and globalism.
The Origins of the Krama The krama is a piece of checkered cotton cloth, usually cut in the standardized size of a bath towel (figure 4). The origins of the Khmer word krama remain debatable, but it probably derives from the Thai term, pha khao ma.5 It is also unclear where the checkered pattern originated. It may have travelled from South India via Malaysia and Thailand to Cambodia. In addition, we know that a Chinese ambassador named Chou Ta Kuan, who visited Angkor in the thirteenth century, reports “every man or woman, from the sovereign down, knots the hair and leaves the shoulders bare. Round the waist they wear a strip of cloth, over which a larger piece [krama] is drawn when they leave their houses.”6 It is indeed ironic that a piece of cloth that plays such a significant role in the daily life of folks in Cambodia has such a misty linguistic and material-culture origin. This multi-purpose cotton cloth was—and is—nevertheless traditionally used by Cambodian farmers and laborers to protect their heads from the elements. But it has other uses too, as a baby sling, blanket, towel, and sacred cloth to drape over
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Figure 4. A Khmer woman wearing a krama, Siem Reap, 2017.
one’s left shoulder when participating in animist and Buddhist rituals. The indispensable roles the krama plays in the daily life of Cambodian culture are poignantly captured in a poem recited by Khmer comedian, poet, and actor Prom Manh and in fact titled Krama:7 Cotton threads in the loom woven into krama, Its value and importance depends upon the person who uses it. It would be regretful if the user didn’t understand its value.
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A small krama is helpful in many ways: it keeps you warm during the cool season, It can be used as a mat for sleeping during the day or night. For plantation workers, the krama is transformed into a hammock for babies and for bathing. Farmers use the krama to wipe sweat off their bodies and to dry after a bath. Krama can be used as a pillow. It can be used as a fan to cool you off. It can be used as cushion when you carry things on your head. It can be used according to your heart’s desire. If you understand its priceless value, you will look after it like a dear friend. Krama is your dear friend, so please do not abuse it. Some have been abusive of the krama and used it to hang themselves.8 Krama has rich meanings just like poor folks. Krama belong to Khmer farmers, Krama is a symbol of poverty, but it remains resilient in sustaining our livelihood. Unfortunately, the first thing that any literary translation loses is sound, especially when the translation is from oral to written language. Prom’s poem belongs to an oral literary tradition. In addition, the transition from spoken to written form adds to losses in the structure, rhyme, and embellishments of the original. Fortunately however, modern digital technology can help us capture this oral and visual tradition by enabling us to see and hear Prom reciting his poem beautifully on Radio Free Asia, as it is uploaded on YouTube.9 Despite the losses in translation we can still appreciate the essential message of the poem: the krama is priceless and indispensable to all Khmers. It symbolizes Khmers’ pride, dignity, humility, fortitude, and resilience in sustaining their lives despite poverty and hardship. More important, the krama is a symbol of life and death: one can use it to sustain one’s life, or to end it. Due to the availability of natural dyes, the krama was traditionally limited to three-color combinations: white/red, white/blue, and white/ black. Now, with the introduction of chemical dyes, kramas are available in a wide palette of colors.10 They are now also made of silk. It is probable that humble villagers and farmers continue to wear the cotton krama, whereas
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the upper class and members of the royal court rarely do. There is a practical explanation for this class distinction. Cotton cloth is affordable and, more important, washable; silk cloth is expensive and impractical for daily use. More significant is the fact that, because the krama is a utilitarian cloth closely associated with villagers’ daily chores and labor, it easily lends itself as a symbol of social and economic equality. When Pol Pot was living in the jungle, the essential items on his desk meant to embody his idea of revolution were books by Marx, Lenin, and Mao Zedong, paired with a perfectly folded krama.11 Indeed, the red-andwhite- or blue-and-white-patterned krama is the Khmer Rouge version of Mao’s red scarf. It thus became part of the ensemble for Khmer Rouge leaders and their comrades. The complete uniform consisted of black pajamas, sandals made from rubber tires, and the red-and-white krama wrapped around the neck, sometimes with a Mao cap as an added accent. There was even a Khmer Rouge slogan referring to the krama: “The red krama goes with a black shirt adorned with a whole troop of buttons.”12 A photograph dated April 10, 1973, shows the late King Sihanouk and his wife, Queen Monineath, wearing krama around their necks while posing with Khieu Samphan as they visit Cambodia’s liberated zone. Sihanouk had been removed from power in 1970 after the coup d’état that established the shortlived Khmer Republic. This is probably the only time we see members of the Cambodian royal family wearing kramas.13 However, in the post–Khmer Rouge period, Prime Minister Hun Sen, who came from a farming community, sported a krama to show his humble origins and his Khmer pride whenever he visited villages, especially during an election season. Sadly, the Khmer Rouge also used the krama as an instrument to punish and torture their victims. We know that this multi-purpose scarf was used to blindfold prisoners, as is evident in a black-and-white interroga tion photograph from Tuol Sleng Prison. The hands of arrested prisoners were either handcuffed or tied with rope, and they were blindfolded so as to keep them literally in the dark. They were then put into a truck and trans ported to the prison. Upon arrival, each was given a number and their blindfolds were removed. Prisoners were subsequently photographed for a prison mug shot. One black-and-white interrogation photograph shows two prisoners handcuffed together, one of them looking directly into the camera while the taller prisoner is blindfolded with a krama. In addition, skulls of victims found with blindfolds attached to their eye sockets have been exhumed from mass graves, reinforcing evidence of this practice. Torn pieces of krama with the names of Khmer Rouge victims inscribed on them
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in Both Sonrin’s painting, Paysage 1975–1979 (discussed in chapter 1), attests to this use of the krama as blindfold. Moreover, a chilling scene in a docu mentary film by Rithy Panh, Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell (2011), in cludes a former Khmer Rouge male prison guard who worked at Toul Sleng Prison reenacting a scene of how a female prisoner who, after a long interro gation by the prison guards, managed to hang herself with her krama. He mimicks how she wrapped a krama around her neck, tied it to the metal bars of the window in the former classroom turned into a prison cell, and hanged herself.14
Sugar Palms If the Krama is about labor and national identity, the sugar palm (Bo rassus flabellifer) is an enduring symbol for Cambodians’ connection to and ownership of the land. A typical, idealized image of the Cambodian countryside is a vista of emerald green or golden rice fields dotted with sugar palm trees (plate 15). One sees farmers wearing checkered cotton scarves on their heads or around their necks to protect them from the sun as they labor in the fields. Not surprisingly, one even finds paintings and drawings depicting this idealized Khmer landscape hung on the walls of Cambodian restaurants in the United States. One possible origin of these landscape paintings is the artist Nhek Dim (1934–1978), one of the fathers of modern Khmer art who was killed under the Khmer Rouge regime.15 The landscapes in these paintings create a spatial atmosphere and set the mood for an “authentic” Khmer village cuisine, and thus the homeland. The Khmer rice field has also entered the Khmer filmic imaginary in the post–Khmer Rouge period. For example, one sees how the landscape changes its color and texture according to the wet and dry seasons in Rithy Panh’s 1994 feature film, Rice People. However, the most sensuous representation of this Khmer rural landscape is captured in Chhay Bora’s 2011 film, Lost Love. Chhay’s framing of the Khmer rice fields with sugar palm trees and a flock of birds flying away at sunset evokes a sublime painting.16 Of course, in the post-genocide period, these filmic images of the pastoral landscape of the Cambodian countryside are deceptively idyllic because, as discussed in chapter 2, Vandy Rattana’s series of color digital photographs and video installation, Bomb Ponds, have given visibility to the bomb craters and poisoned water and earth that resulted from the chemical warfare carried out by the United States between 1965 and 1973.17
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Cambodians proudly value their sugar palm trees because they are one of the richest national products. Palm wood is used for building houses as well as for making dinner plates, ladles, and spoons. Other kinds of palm such as the Borassus species is used for making traditional books to preserve Buddhist texts and royal chronicles. Palm leaves are woven into thatch for roofs and the walls of houses found in villages throughout Cambodia. Palm trees can also be consumed: they produce juice that can be turned into palm wine and sugar, and palm fruits can be eaten fresh or turned into dessert.18 The palm tree and its sugar have entered the Cambodian national imagination. As mentioned earlier, the palm tree is one of the major elements in Nhek Dim’s landscape paintings.19 Moreover, in contemporary Cambodia, one of the best-known restaurants that caters to both Cambodians and foreigners in Siem Reap and Phnom Penh and serves traditional Khmer food is called “Sugar Palm.”20 All the furniture and eating utensils in the Siem Reap restaurant are made of sugar palm wood. Another example is that of the emerging Cambodian director Chhay Bora and his wife, Kauv Sotheary, an actress as well as a writer. Chhay and Kauv named their Khmer film production company “Palm Film Production.” According to Kauv: “We named the company after the sugar palm tree because palm trees are symbols of Khmer identity. When one leaves the city for the countryside, you see palm trees dotting the landscape. . . . This is why we named the film production company after a palm tree.”21 Chhang Youk, director of Documentation Center of Cambodia, is engaged in the construction of a new building for the center that is called the Sleuk Rith Institute. According to the website, “it is the leading center for genocide studies in Asia, fostering memory, justice and reconciliation in Cambodia and throughout the region.” Chhang has hired world-renowned architect Zaha Hadid (1950–2016) to design the building for the Sleuk Rith. Unfortunately, Hadid passed away in 2016, so it is unclear whether this architectural project will be completed posthumously. What is relevant to our discussion is the fact that the institute takes its name from palm leaves—a local resource and symbol of knowledge: “Sleuk riths are dried [sugar palm] leaves that Cambodian religious leaders and scholars have used for centuries to document history, disseminate knowledge, and preserve culture during harsh rule. They represent both the beauty of knowledge and the power of perseverance during times of peril.”22 In short, the sugar palm combines symbols of fortitude and political resilience. More important, its leaves are used for the preservation of knowledge, culture, and Khmer identity.
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You Khin The coupling of palm sugar and the krama as visual and material markers of the Khmer ethnic identity is made manifest in contemporary art of Cambodia and beyond. You Khin (1947–2009), a Cambodian artist, and Bopha Xorigia or Lê Huy Hoàng (1967–2014), a Vietnamese-Cambodian artist, have combined the concept and materiality of palm sugar and the krama together in their art as an expression of their ethnic identity and politics. You was born in Kompong Cham Province. He graduated from the Royal University of Fine Arts in 1973 with a degree in interior architecture. He subsequently won a French scholarship to study decorative arts in Marseilles at the Luminy School of Fine Arts. You met his future wife, Muoy, on a student field trip to visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1973. Muoy was also a Cambodian student who had won a scholarship, in her case to study French literature. You created a painting to celebrate their first meeting at the Eiffel Tower. The painting captures two figures embracing in a passionate kiss, with the tower in the background. It is clear that You was referencing Gustav Klimt’s well-known painting, The Kiss (1909). The couple was married in 1974, as the political situation in their homeland was becoming unstable. Prince Norodom Sihanouk was in the Soviet Union for a state visit when a coup d’état, spearheaded by Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak and General Lon Nol, took place in 1970. The Lon Nol regime was backed by the United States. The Khmer Republic (1970–1975) was founded soon afterward. After being deposed, King Sihanouk lived in exile in Beijing with his immediate family until his return to the country in 1992 except for three years during which the prince and some members of his family lived under house arrest as prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime in a house on the grounds of the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. The Khmer Rouge regime was backed by China. They shared a common ideology: communism. In anticipation of regaining his kingdom, the deposed King Sihanouk sided with the Khmer Rouge leaders who were living deep in the jungle of Cambodia. In addition, he also allied himself openly with North Vietnam. In 1975 You and his wife, pregnant with their first child, were living in Marseilles. They missed home terribly and were waiting for news from their relatives, but no news came because the country had been closed off from the outside world after the Khmer Rouge seized power on April 17, 1975. The couple was nevertheless very aware of the political situation in Cambodia.23
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Like many Cambodians of their generation, they had read and heard of the Pŭtth Tŭmneay, a collection of Cambodian Buddhist prophecies written in verses (the text has been transmitted orally among the Khmer for years). This collection of poems predicted the destruction of Buddhism in Cambodia and, in retrospect, seemed to foreshadow the bloodshed caused by the Khmer Rouge. (One of the common predictions I heard as a child was “The blood will flow on the streets as high as an elephant’s stomach”).24 In fact, Leang Seckon, whose work I discussed in chapter 2, in 2013 created a mixed-media painting titled The Elephant and the Blood Pond, which visually represents this particular prophecy (plate 16). In this work we see three wild and cruel figures dressed in uniforms; two of them, depicted with animal heads, are shown riding on an elephant. They have tortured this sacred animal until blood is gushing out of its eyes. Moreover, a river of blood rises up to the level of the elephant’s belly. Clearly, the lower part of the painting, in bright-red over layers of incense labels, symbolizes blood. The elephant is treading on two corpses, and below we see an emaciated Buddha literally drowning in this river of blood. In this image the artist intended to expose the cruelty and immorality that occurred in the world when the Buddha’s teaching was suppressed.25 In short, the Yous were aware of this Buddhist prophecy. Mouy had to wait until 1980 to learn that her parents and many of her relatives had been killed under the Khmer Rouge regime. Due to the changing political regimes and the violence in Cambodia, You and his wife remained in exile in France, Africa, the Middle East, and England until their return to Cambodia in 2003. Luckily, with his degree and training, You was able to find employment teaching and practicing architecture; but he continued to paint wherever they lived. Likewise, Muoy was a teacher of French language and literature, which gave her the flexibility to raise her four children and support their lives abroad. You continued to paint and worked even more prolifically after his permanent return to Cambodia in 2003. In 2009, he was suddenly diagnosed with lung cancer; sadly he passed away in August of that year at the age of sixty-two.26 During his lifetime, You painted over one hundred paintings and created numerous mixed-media abstract sculptures. As he matured as an artist, he developed a symbolic language of his own. An example is a selfportrait painted in 2009. The artist portrayed himself wearing eyeglasses and a krama around his neck. His eyes seem to be closed, and he is holding a stick in his right hand, to the right of which a spoon is floating (plate 17). These symbols are not easily unlocked without the artist’s key, which is embedded in the titles he gave his paintings. Unfortunately, the 2009 self-
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portrait did not receive a title before the artist passed away. A good example is the oil painting (46 cm × 38 cm) on canvas titled Cheun See Babor Thnot (Chinese eating sweet palm fruit rice pudding), which the artist painted on April 17, 1975 (plate 18). This painting renders his political commentary and perspectives on the political relationship between China and the Khmer Rouge regime. The subject matter and the date suggest that You intended the painting to be read as a political allegory of how China, which backed the Khmer Rouge regime, had literally consumed Cambodia on that day in 1975. Cheun See Babor Thnot is a small painting. It depicts two figures perched on top of a raised platform situated inside a bamboo hut of a type commonly found along the roadside in Cambodia. The woman on the left wears a black tunic over a red samput; her head is wrapped in a red krama. The krama symbolizes the communism of the Khmer Rouge regime. Moreover, the woman is shown seated with her legs folded in the “lotus” position. Next to her is a Chinese man, portrayed wearing a white tank top and black shorts, in squatting position. It is worth pointing out that it was quite common in Cambodia and Southeast Asia at large to see Chinese laborers crouching while eating their humble meal with chopsticks, usually a big bowl of rice with fish, tofu, and soup. In the foreground of the painting, we see a huge clay pot containing sweet palm fruit and rice pudding. This particular Khmer dessert is made of sliced young palm fruit, sticky rice, coconut milk, and palm sugar, and is traditionally cooked in a clay pot. In You’s painting, the mouth of the pot is covered with banana leaves, with the handle of a ladle protruding from the pot. A pair of chopsticks lies on the platform, articulating the ethnic and cultural difference in the use of eating utensils: ethnic Khmers eat with their right hand or with a spoon and fork, not with chopsticks. Chopsticks were imported from China into Cambodia. Thus the pair of chopsticks reinforces the man in the painting’s ethnic Chinese identity. Two emptied bowls lying on the floor of the raised platform suggest that this Chinese man is insatiable; he has already eaten two bowls of Khmer dessert and is about to consume his third. There is probably little to nothing left of the dessert inside the pot. Moreover, in many of his other paintings You tended to sign his name in the lower right-hand corner, but in this particular work he signed it in the upper left-hand corner, directly above the date “4–17–75.” This historically significant date is inscribed on a blue background as if it were written in the sky. It is possible that the woman with the red krama wrapped around her head in You’s painting represents the recently victorious Khmer Rouge
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regime, backed by China, who is now selling her sweet Khmer palm fruit and rice pudding to a Chinese man. In short, the subject matter, the date, and all the visual markers of ethnic difference reinforce my reading of the painting as a political allegory. Further, it comments on how China won the political game with the United States by using the Khmer Rouge regime.27 Indeed, the Khmer Republic, supported by the United States, came to an end on April 17, 1975. Thereafter China literally consumed Cambodia, as is symbolized by the palm fruit and rice pudding dessert. The red krama worn by the Khmer woman and the clay pot can be read as the womb of Cambodia and, by extension, the Khmer motherland. The metaphor embedded in the clay pot as womb resonates with the forty-one clay pots that were used in Amy Lee Sanford’s 2012 installation and performance piece, Full Circle, discussed in chapter 1. You’s allegory of China’s political relationship with the Khmer Rouge echoes a verse from Korb’s swan song, quoted in its entirety in chapter 2: “O Khmer with black blood/Servants of the Chinese/Killing your own nation.”
Lê Huy Hoàng (Bopha Xorigia) Another artist who combined the krama and palm sugar as visual markers of his mixed ethnicity was the late Vietnamese-Khmer artist Lê Huy Hoàng, whose Khmer name is Bopha Xorigia (1967–2014). Lê /Bopha’s dual ethnicities featured strongly in his work, and thus his biography intersected with the history and memory of Vietnam and Cambodia. Lê was born in Hanoi on August 8, 1967, to a Khmer father named Sang Sam Bol and a Vietnamese mother, Tran Nguyet Uyen.28 According to Lê, his father had been born in Kompong Chnang, a province located ninety-one kilome ters north of Phnom Penh. Sang Sam Bol joined the Viet Minh in their guerrilla war against the French colonial presence in Indochina led by Son Ngoc Minh (1920–1972), a Khmer krom (a Khmer from what is now South Vietnam) whose father was a Khmer krom and mother a Vietnamese.29 Sang followed Son to Hanoi in 1954 at the age of fifteen as a foot soldier fighting against the French.30 According to Lê: I don’t know much about my father’s roots, apart from the fact that he’s Cambodian. He came to Vietnam with Son Ngoc Minh during the Indochinese revolution. He was trained to be a ground soldier and then went on to study medicine in Viet Bac. I only know this from reading his diary. He
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then worked as doctor at Q51 before the Americans bombed it. After that he worked for the 105 Military Hospital. My mother is originally from Vinh Phu. She studied to be a teacher. It was my uncle who helped her move to Hanoi and get a job in the field of education. She’s retired now.31
Sang completed his secondary education in Hanoi, then attended medical school and became a doctor at a hospital in Ha Dong. Lê grew up in Son Tay, a riverside town located fifty kilometers west of Hanoi. At the age of seventeen, he joined a mobile-army training unit in Ho Chi Minh City and worked there until he turned twenty. Vietnam invaded Cambodia in 1979 and occupied the country until 1989.32 He was sent to Cambodia in 1987 as a soldier when the country was under Vietnamese occupation. There, he spent one year in Phnom Penh learning to read and write Khmer. That year offered Lê an opportunity to reconnect with his fatherland, but it also exacerbated his ethnic identity crisis. He was there at the end of the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia when many Khmers were growing impatient for Vietnamese troops to withdraw as quickly as possible. This anti-Vietnamese sentiment might have contributed to Lê’s re jection of his half-Khmer identity. According to Kiem Van Tim, “Many Cambodians thought he was a spy and treated him with contempt and disgust.”33 His identity crisis led him to a place for the politically and economically displaced, a refugee camp in Thailand. There, he met a painter who taught him painting and drawing. He then left the refugee camp and returned to Vietnam. At the age of twenty-nine he had no practical skills except those of a soldier, but the war was over. Lê worked as an itinerant laborer throughout Vietnam, where he met Nguyen Bang Si, a seventy-yearold poet and artist who took him under his wing and mentored him. Nguyen encouraged Lê to take the required examination for enrollment at the School of Fine Arts in Hanoi in 1995, which he did, graduating with a degree in painting. Lê’s passion and talent, however, lay not in painting but in installation art. He has an extraordinary grasp of concepts and materials for objects and space. Consider the powerful installation he created at Nha San Studio in Hanoi in 2009. Lê’s dual ethnic consciousness has provided him with a profound understanding of the significant roles the krama and the palm sugar play as specific visual markers of the Khmer ethnic identity; the time he spent in Cambodia enriched his ethnographic skills. In an interview with Nguyen Manh Hung, the former director of Nha San Studio, Lê said:
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This checkered scarf is called “krama” in Cambodia. A lot of people in the south of Vietnam wear it too. It’s one of the most distinct aspects of the Cambodian culture. For example, when I was living there, it would be considered impolite if you wore shorts on the street. But it would be fine as soon as you wrapped a krama around you. There are many types of kramas, and they’re used for different purposes. Women can wrap a krama around their chests when bathing in a stream. Men can wrap it around their hips to change clothes. I’ve also seen women wearing a krama instead of a sarong. They look beautiful. The krama was used during the Pol Pot era too. For instance, if someone was shot during a battle . . . others could quickly use a krama to carry him away. People also use it for protection from the sun and rain. Generally speaking, the krama is very versatile and practical. It can be used anywhere, anytime. It’s not only an important cultural symbol, but also an object that Cambodians use on a daily basis. Their leaders wear it frequently, too. It is [an] important cultural symbol. There’s no doubt about it. That’s why I’ve decided to use it in this work.34
Lê originally had decided to create an installation of a painted krama that measured 3 × 20 meters, but the gallery space under the stilted wooden house of Nha San Studio was too small to accommodate such a large-scale scarf; he settled for a krama of 3 × 10 meters (plates 19 and 20).35 The bril liance of this installation lies in the materials: Khmer palm sugar, Vietnamese white cane sugar, and used coffee grounds collected from coffee shops in Lê’s neighborhood in Hanoi. He related in an interview: I thought a lot about what materials to use. My friends suggested that I should use the sugar made from palm tree, as the palm tree is a significant icon of Cambodia. It can make sugar. Its body can be used to make furniture, and to build houses and ships. During the Pol Pot time, they even used its leaves to cut up bodies. So I’ve always wanted to use the sugar made from palm tree in my work, and I think this is a perfect time to bring it into play. [Palm] sugar is such an ordinary ingredient, as people use it everywhere in their meals or to cook with. But it’s actually a crucial part of who I am. It’s flowing in my veins. [My Khmer father] came to Vietnam with Son Ngoc Minh during the Indochinese revolution. It’s what both Vietnam and Cambodia have fed and nurtured me with. The other material used is coffee grounds. I’ve chosen this because it represents the darker, bitterer side of my family. . . . There are hidden pains that haven’t been unfolded,
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and that make me feel like a worthless object which people leave behind once they’ve used it. So it’s obvious that these materials naturally speak for themselves.36
The result was a meticulously painted, checkered Khmer krama laid on a dirt floor. Lê unveiled his installation on September 5, 2009. The artist alternated the squares in the design of the scarf with the light-brown color of melted palm sugar, the white of Vietnamese cane sugar, and the deep-brown color of Vietnamese coffee grounds. The taste of these respective materials succeeded in capturing the artist’s appreciation of the sweetness of bicultural ethnicity, but it also evokes the bitter, darker, and traumatic past of the conflict and battle fought between Vietnam and Cambodia. Like the temporality of emotions, the installation was ephemeral. It lasted only a few days before it was destroyed by humid weather and consumed by ants. In December 2010, I was fortunate to spend some time with Lê in Hanoi. He told me that he was never fully accepted by either one of the ethnic groups into which he was born. Indeed, he suffered from his displaced ethnic identities. He compared himself to used coffee grounds in terms of their bitter taste as well as the color of his skin, which is dark in contrast to the lighter skin of his Vietnamese compatriots. He also suffered from what Frantz Fanon called “a corporeal malediction” within the dominant Dai Viet ethnic community of Hanoi and Vietnam at large.37 On the other hand, when he was in Cambodia, he spoke Khmer with a heavy Vietnamese accent that hampered his acceptance into Khmer society. Moreover, the fact that he was there as part of the Vietnamese occupation was probably the main cause of suspicion among Cambodians regarding his ethnicity. In a 2009 interview, Lê claims to have overcome his bi-ethnic and bicultural conflict and displacement by celebrating his rich cultural roots: I am forty something years old now. Like everyone else, when I look back over my life . . . I see pieces of broken memories scattered everywhere. But I am definitely luckier than they are because I am an artist. I am capable of picking up those broken pieces and turning them into art. I realize that I might not be a blessed human being. But as an artist I am exceptionally fortunate, because I am bicultured. I can use aspects of the Vietnamese culture one day, and elements of the Cambodian culture another day. So in the end, I am actually a rather rich person, because I own a pool of endless inspirations from both of these cultural treasures.”38
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As an individual, Lê might have transcended ethnic stigma. Considering the deep-rooted ethnic and political conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam, however, I do not think he was free from the quotidian prejudices and ethnic biases of society at large. In the end, his bi-ethnic and bicultural body belonged neither to Vietnam nor to Cambodia. This betwixt-and-between subject position explains why Lê compared himself to the coffee grounds that people throw out after they have consumed their essence and aroma. Indeed, his marginality left him feeling very bitter. In 2010 he created an installation titled Rain, in which he criticized the Vietnamese government for its lack of accountability in compensating Vietnamese soldiers after the war. Consider the opening shots of a 2010 documentary film by Nguyen Trinh Thi titled Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over. It shows Lê translating and interpreting for his Vietnamese mother a Cambodian certificate written in Khmer and awarded to his late Khmer father, Sang Sam Bol, in recognition of his martyrdom and service to the nation of Cambodia by the Vietnamese-controlled Cambodian government of the early 1980s. The certificate was signed by Chan Sy, the prime minister of the People’s Republic of Kampuchea that lasted from 1981 to 1989. Lê said to his mother: This certificate is only for memories. It doesn’t have any value anymore with Cambodia today. Mother, if you showed this to Hun Sen [the current prime minister of Cambodia] now, he would think this is only memory. In history, once there were these people from Cambodia who went to Vietnam and who followed Ho Chi Minh to make a revolution and died. This doesn’t have any value with Fatherland Cambodia anymore. For Vietnam, this reminds the Vietnamese of their brothers in arms. But mainly, it’s just a piece of artwork now.39
The injustice and apathy on the part of the Cambodian and Vietnamese governments in not providing any kind of monetary compensation to his aging, widowed mother and to him had probably intensified Lê’s bitterness. Like the coffee grounds, soldiers are tossed out as waste and left to survive on their own. Lê’s 2010 installation Rain40 is his rendition of the Vietnamese government as unaccountable and apathetic. Rain was also installed at the gallery space at Nha San. It was made of thousands of acupuncture needles and screws that the artist strung together using transparent plastic wires and hung from the ceiling. With theatrical lighting, Lê was able to create the magical illusion of torrential monsoon rain pouring down onto
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fragile mustard sprouts. Anyone who has experienced a monsoon rain in Southeast Asia knows that its raindrops are so strong and forceful that they feel like needles pricking your body. Lê’s installation is intended as a critique of the Vietnamese government for stunting the growth of young children by denying them proper education. The rain, which should provide water for little plants to grow, instead crushes them. The children that the plants represent are never allowed to grow and become independent, as they must always remain dependent on the government for their livelihood and guidance. This infantilization cripples the population and, in turn, the Vietnamese nation. Sadly, Lê discovered that he had stomach cancer and died a premature death on January 21, 2014, at the age of forty-seven.41 The works of both You Khin and Lê Huy Hoàng are about the politics of negotiation, race, ethnicity, and the nation. They are about longing for home and belonging to the nation. But how are the nation and nationalism defined and conceptualized in the Cambodian context? The rebuilding of the Cambodian nation after the Khmer Rouge genocide is an ongoing project. Like all other nation-states around the globe, the idea of a nation is by no means homogeneous or static in the Cambodian case. In fact, the current Khmer nation can arguably be said to comprise three nations plus the Cambodian diaspora: Khmer Surin, located in northeast Thailand; the Kingdom of Cambodia; Kampuchea Krom (South Vietnam); and the Khmer diaspora around the world. Moreover, there has been perpetual political negotiation between diverse marginalized groups such as the ethnic Khmer Cham Muslims, Khmer Chinese, and other ethnic minorities. In addition, there are groups who are fighting for gender equality and their sexual orientation. It is beyond the scope of this chapter to address the identities of all groups within Cambodia.42 In his 1983 book Imagined Communities, Benedict Anderson advanced an insightful argument that printed media such as literature and newspapers gave rise to nationalism as an imagined community—a community based on a commonly shared national language.43 Anderson’s argument needs to be expanded by acknowledging the important role that visual images play in articulating national identities in the age of global social media and transnationalism.44 Consider, for example, the KramaNation Campaign Facebook page and website established by Theary C. Seng, a Cambodian American lawyer, feminist, and political activist who has been living in Cambodia for the past decade. According to her website, KramaNation is set up to showcase Khmer pride worldwide by encouraging people to wear the krama:
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Krama Nation is an international movement of people around the world who have come together to celebrate the power of Cambodia’s culture and arts. The Krama is our flag, and like Cambodian arts, it’s rooted in ancient traditions but inventively adapted to many contexts—from decoration to towel, scarf, headwrap, baby sling, and more. Krama Nation is designed to connect worldwide supporters of Khmer arts to each other, to the events of NYC’s Seasons of Cambodia Festival, and to other Cambodian cultural events around the world.45
Seng encouraged both Khmers and foreigners to send in photographs of themselves wearing a krama and then posted them on her website. Clearly, there has been a shift from print culture as the location of nationalism to visual culture in cyberspace as the site/sight where national consciousness is articulated, displayed, and made interactive. In short, the Internet is an alternative space that plays a major role in disseminating the krama as one of the important visual markers of Khmer identity in the post–Khmer Rouge period.
A Krama Protest Banner The effect of the neoliberal economy and global investment in Cambodia in recent years has widened the gap between the rich and the poor. Global investment has also contributed to the exploitation of local labor and land evictions.46 A major turning point in this struggle was the assassination of Chea Vichea, a leader of the Free Trade Union workers, who was gunned down in broad daylight on January 22, 2004, while reading a newspaper.47 There were subsequent protests by garment-factory workers demanding higher wages, including a protest in January 2014 that culminated in a major strike. In addition, protests over land evictions have continued to plague the Cambodian government; these protests remain unresolved. For example, the Borei Keila and the Boeung Kak Lake protests have dragged on for years now.48 Officials in the Cambodian government have participated in perpetuating the neoliberal economy and the use of violence to silence any voices of dissent. Pung Chhiv Kek, the director of a Cambodian human rights organization, pointed out in an interview: “We have noticed that in the past,
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journalists who criticized the government were assassinated. . . . [Now] we can see that the government [has] changed its strategy, instead of killing people, they use the court to arrest them based on groundless accusations and put them in jail.”49 Indeed, the current Cambodian government has full control over the judiciary system and in recent years has drafted laws to control Internet freedom of speech and other forms of political protest. The Cambodian gov ernment’s move toward an authoritarian state run by a quasi-military dicta torship has compelled some villagers to establish a united front. Again, the political symbol of the villagers’ united front is the krama, which has proven to be an enduring political symbol of Khmer identity, social equality, citizen ship, human rights, and democracy in the post–Khmer Rouge period. For instance, a 230-meter-long banner, made from many blue-and-white-check ered kramas, was used in a 2011 protest by villagers against the Cambodian government’s attempt to impose laws on associations and nongovernmental organizations, unions, and agricultural cooperatives. As many Cambodian villagers are illiterate, more than ten thousand thumbprints on paper were collected in 2012 from villages and towns throughout the kingdom on Human Rights Day, November 12. Approximately one hundred villagers engaged in land disputes and communities dealing with environmental issues joined with protesters who opposed laws that the Cambodian government was attempting to impose upon them. Together the two groups held up a long krama banner and marched in the streets of Phnom Penh on January 18, 2012, chanting: “The citizens want the National Assembly to know that they are concerned over draft laws that restrict their freedoms.” The protest ended with the Khmer villagers presenting their petition, in the form of the krama banner weighing fifty kilograms, to the National Assembly.50 Pha Lina, a photographer working for the Phnom Penh Post, was present at the protest and took many color photographs of the events. Two are repro duced here. The first shows villagers holding the banner in solidarity (figure 5). A phrase written in Khmer at the top reads: “For the Royal Government of Cambodia,” and the bottom of the banner is signed “From the Khmer Citizens.” The Buddhist monk wearing a mask is the Reverend Luon Sovath, who has been active in leading protests against land eviction and deforesta tion.51 Due to his political perspective and activism, he has been pushed out of government-controlled Buddhist temples and has an arrest record.52 The second photograph shows villagers presenting the rolled-up banner to the National Assembly and asking the government to cancel the draft laws that they felt would impede their freedom of speech and human rights (figure 6).
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Figure 5. Pha Lina, Krama protest (color print photograph, 2012). Courtesy of Pha Lina.
Figure 6. Pha Lina, Villagers submitting their petitions to the Royal Government of Cambodia, January 18, 2012, Phnom Penh. Courtesy of Pha Lina.
It remains to be seen whether the draft laws will be passed or not. What is relevant to my argument, however, is that the krama symbolizes Khmer village pride and political solidarity against a neoliberalist government, state censorship, and the abuse of human rights. It has become a visual marker of class struggle and political resistance.
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Queering the Krama The krama is clearly a symbol of Khmer pride, national consciousness, and identity, as well as a “mass adornment” signifying social equality, human rights, and democracy when it is worn at political and social protests. It also provides a site/sight of inclusion for marginalized groups who are excluded from the Cambodian nation. A clear instance is the appropriation of the krama by the LGBTQI community in Cambodia. The community held its first pride parade in 2004, the same year the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk (1922–2012) made a rather surprising political public announcement on February 20—namely, that same-sex marriage would be allowed in Cambodia. Apparently, the eighty-one-year-old king father had seen images of gay marriages in San Francisco that inspired his political statement. This public announcement came shortly before Sihanouk’s final abdication, which in turn was followed by the ascension and coronation of his unmarried son, Sihamoni, on October 29, 2004. When reporters asked why King Sihamoni was still single, the late king father purportedly said, “King Sihamoni loves women as his sisters.”53 The sexual orientation of the king is “understood” by Khmer people and thus has deliberately been politically ambiguous. It is probably this subtle “queering” of the kingdom, global investment in real estate in Cambodia, and the rise of tourism and the Cambodian middle class that created a market for gay bathhouses in Cambodia. However, Amam Café and Spa, the first gay bathhouse opened in Phnom Penh in February 2008, is reported to have gone out of business in March 2018.54 It was owned by a gay French expatriate and his Khmer business partner. They employed Khmer staff. It catered to men only and was frequented by mostly Khmer men of all ages. It had a steam room, pool, and rooms for cruising, as well as alcoves for privacy. Instead of handing out bath towels to clients, the management decided to provide them with a blue-and-white-checkered krama. Khmer men, especially villagers and working-class men, usually take their showers and bathe outdoors, wearing a krama around their midsection while leaving the upper body and legs exposed. Amam Café and Spa wanted to sustain— and even emphasize—this traditional bathing habit. Thang Sothea, a graphic artist, architect, and painter, created a series of paintings in 2011 titled Don’t Be Shy that features explicitly Khmer male bodies engaged in same-sex erotic play and sexual positions. Thang is a selftaught artist who was born in Kompong Cham Province in 1983. He received
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his bachelor’s degree in architecture and urban planning from Norton University in Phnom Penh in 2007. His Don’t Be Shy series was exhibited in 2011 at Metahouse Gallery in Phnom Penh as part of citywide art exhibitions and events celebrating the LGBTQI Pride Festival. One of the paint ings included in the exhibition that is relevant to my discussion of the krama and gay Khmer identity is titled Horny Krama (plate 21). This acrylic paint ing measures 90 × 160 centimeters and depicts the smooth, brown, and muscled body of a faceless man on a green background. He is shown in the act of adjusting his krama as he wraps it around his waist. Although he is faceless, the red-and-white-checkered krama and his brown skin are visual markers indexing his Khmer cultural identity. He presents the viewer with his exposed, muscular left thigh. At the lower left of the canvas is the head of a bull, with one of its horns pointing directly and erotically at the crotch of the faceless man. The bull, moreover, is shown licking the man’s big toe. In contemporary Khmer culture the bull is readily recognized as a symbol of masculinity. It has been rumored that in 1998 a Khmer farmer named his stud bull after Preap Sovath, one of the most macho Khmer singers. The farmer put an ad in the newspaper stating that he would charge a hundred-dollar stud fee for his prize bull “Preap Sovath.” The singer saw the ad and threatened to sue the farmer for a thousand dollars, claiming that his wife had suffered tremendous public ridicule as a result of it. (She averred that the ad had made it sound as if any woman in Cambodia could have a mating session with her husband for a fee.) The singer dropped the lawsuit after the farmer changed the bull’s name.55 However, the bull in Thang’s painting is not about procreation but homosexual sex, or MSM (men who have sex with men). One is led to ask why the male figure in the painting has no face. Unlike Western culture where it is considered more arousing if one is able to see one’s partner during sex, Southeast Asians generally prefer to have sex in total darkness. This applies to both heterosexual and homosexual sex. It is partly about shyness, but also, downplaying vision and visuality during the act of sexual intimacy enables the partners to explore the tactility and scent of one another’s bodies. Unlike gay bathhouses in Europe and North America, where to be seen and to display one’s toned and buff body is part of the visual eroticism, the lighting in bathhouses in Cambodia (and in Southeast Asia in general) tend to range from low to total darkness, especially inside the steam room, where krama-clad men feel their way through the dark room with the help of other men’s naked bodies.56 In a gay bathhouse, especially in the preferred dark cruising space of a Cambo-
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dian bathhouse, not all men identify as gay or bisexual, and thus anonymity is preferred. Another example of the queering of the krama took place in 2012 when the Cambodia Center for Human Rights and various sexual orientation and gender-identity organizations produced a rainbow krama (plate 22). According to the center’s website, “the purpose of the rainbow krama is to raise awareness of the rights of LGBTQI people and to promote respect for them. Proceeds from the sale of the rainbow krama will fund legal support for LGBTQI victims of discrimination.”57 Despite having a queer-friendly king and broad acceptance of same-sex relationships and transgender individuals in Cambodian culture, nonetheless members of the LGBTQI community there are often stereotyped as sex workers. Consequently, they are marginalized as being immoral because they have deviated from the teachings of the Buddhist religion and are therefore considered to be disrespectful of traditional Khmer culture. After all, the motto of the Kingdom of Cambodia is “Nation, Religion, and the King.”58 Sex workers and the LGBTQI gay community have been trying to counter this negative stereotype by engaging in Buddhist religious activities as a way of fighting for their inclusion and acceptance in the Cambodian nation. For instance, on June 16, 2008, a group of sex workers, most of them dressed in white, the uniform of Khmer Buddhist laywomen, participated in a Buddhist ritual of protest against the government crackdown on sex workers that prevented them from making a living, arguing that their livelihood depends on their profession.59 The LGBTQI community has embraced the dominant Buddhist religion to gain acceptance into the Cambodian nation through a public spectacle that involved many tuk tuks (or remoks), four-wheel motorized taxis, that carried participants in the 2013 LGBTQI Pride Parade. The tuk tuks, decorated with rainbow flags, a sign of diversity and inclusiveness, paraded to Wat Somrong Buddhist temple in Phnom Penh to be blessed by fifty monks.60 The rainbow krama symbolizes how the LGBTQI community in Cambodia has laid claim to Khmer identity while simultaneously queering it. Finally, in 2018, Cambodia won the Guinness World Record award for the longest handwoven scarf, a 1,149.8-meter red-and-white-checkered krama.61 In brief, the aggrandizement of this visual marker reinforces my point about the importance of the krama to contemporary Khmer national identity. More important, it seems that the current government of Cambodia has coopted the villagers’ symbol of political resistance as a national trophy.
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In conclusion, both the krama and the palm tree are floating signifiers of Khmer cultural and national identity. They have changed as they responded to changing political regimes. The krama in particular is flexible enough to embrace the sexual and political identities of marginalized groups within the Cambodian nation. This flexibility concurs with what the late Stuart Hall posited regarding the nature of cultural identity: Identity is not as transparent or unproblematic as we think. Perhaps instead of thinking of identity as an already accomplished fact, which the new cultural practices then represent, we should think, instead, of identity as a “production,” which is never complete, always in process, and always constituted within, not outside, representation. This view problematizes the very authenticity to which the term, “cultural identity,” lays claim.62
Plate 17. You Khin, Self-Portrait (2009).
Plate 18. You Khin, Cheun See Babor Thnot (Chinese eating sweet palm fruit rice pudding; oil on canvas, April 17, 1975).
Plate 19. Lê Huy Hoàng, Krama (coffee, and palm sugar, 3 × 10 meters, installation at Nha San Studio, Hanoi, 2009). Courtesy of Nguyen Manh Hung.
Plate 20. Lê Huy Hoàng painting the Krama installation (coffee, and palm sugar, 3 × 10 meters, installation at Nha San Studio, Hanoi, 2009). Courtesy of Nguyen Manh Hung.
Plate 21. Thang Sothea, Horny Krama (acrylic on canvas, measures 90 × 160 cm, 2011, Romcheik 5, Art Space, Battambang, Cambodia).
Plate 22. LGBT Rainbow Krama (2012).
Plate 23. Portrait of King Suryavarman II (12th century, South Gallery, Angkor Wat, Cambodia).
Plate 24. King Suryarvarman II holding a serpent? (detail of plate 23).
(above) Plate 25. Lim Keo Piseth and Lim Sylvain, Silk Wedding Gown for the Princess (2004). Courtesy of Lim Sylvain and Lim Keo Piseth. (next page, top) Plate 26. Sam Satya as Neang Neak (from Seasons of Migration, 2005). Courtesy of Anders Jiras. (bottom) Plate 27. Neang Neak Statue, Siem Reap, Cambodia, 2000.
Plate 28. Reclining Vishnu, Kbal Spean, ca. 11th–12th century.
Plate 29. Reclining Vishnu, Preah Khan, ca. 12th century.
Performing Khmer Cultural Identity The Tale/Tail of the Serpent Princess
A national culture is a discourse—a way of constructing meanings which influences and organizes both our actions and our conception of ourselves. National cultures construct identities by producing meanings about “the nation” with which we can identify; these are contained in the stories which are told about it, memories which connect its present with its past, and images which are constructed of it. —Stuart Hall, Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies1
In the tale of Nokor Kok Thlok, the founding myth of the Khmer kingdom, there is a serpent princess named Neang Neak who is considered the mythic mother of the Khmer ethnic group in Cambodia. Unlike the krama discussed in chapter 4—a visual marker of cultural identity associated with Khmer farmers that was coopted by the Khmer Rouge as a symbol of economic and social equality—Neang Neak has been associated with both court and mass culture, especially at weddings. I contend that reanimation of her story to promote nationalism and national identity at home and in the diaspora harkens back to postindependence Cambodia (1955 to 1970) when the French colonial construct of the Khmer court evolved into a national art form to promote the emerging Cambodian nation.2 I also believe that the arguably matrilineal gender structure of Khmer culture might have contributed to the persistence of the tale of Neang Neak as a representation of the Khmer kingdom and national identity in post-genocide Cambodia.
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Nokor Kok Thlok Once upon a time there was an island named Nokor Kok Thlok surrounded by a vast ocean.3 The vegetation that grew on top of this island was a thlok tree.4 A Brahmin prince named Preah Thong came from India and saw Neang Neak, the daughter of the king of the serpents (nagas) taking a bath. He fell in love with her and insisted that she take him to meet her father, who lived in the world under the sea, so he might ask the king’s permission to marry the princess. In order to prevent the prince from drowning, Neang Neak asked him to hold on to her tail as they descended to the bottom of the ocean. The king of the nagas agreed to the union, and as a wedding present swallowed the ocean in order to provide more land for the couple where they could cultivate rice. Thus was the Kingdom of Kok Thlok founded.5 The myth of Nokor Kok Thlok was transmitted by oral tradition among the Khmers for centuries. The story appears in a tenth-century inscription written in Sanskrit and Khmer found on a doorjamb of the east entrance to Baksei Chamkrong, a small Angkorian temple made of laterite stone and bricks built under the reign of King Harshavarman I (910–923 CE), though it was not completed until the reign of King Rajendravarman (944–968 CE). The temple was dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva in the form of a golden linga in 943 CE.6 There, one finds a similar story of the marriage between a Brahmin and a serpent princess. Furthermore, one of the explanations for the etymology of the word Khmer comes from this inscription: Honor self-created Kambu whose glory (like a star) rose at the horizon, and whose superior descendent, having obtained the conjunction of the Solar and the Lunar races, disperses ignorance [. . .], and is perfectly complete, accomplished in all the arts. I implore Mera, the most glorious of celestial women, whom Shiva, guru of the Three Worlds [. . .] gave from on high as queen to this wise man.7
First, the coupling of Kambu and Mera gave birth to the word Khmer.8 Second, Mera is a celestial dancer, suggesting that dance was and still is the primary artistic mode of expression in Cambodian culture. Third, Mera came from the lunar race and Kambu belonged to the solar race: the couple
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thus founded the lunar and solar dynasties in ancient Khmer dynastic genealogies. Last, although it is hard to make a clear distinction between “myth” and “history” in ancient Khmer definitions and notions of the past, it is clear that the story of Preah Thong Neang Neak had entered the Khmer historical imagination by the tenth century. The figure of Kambu supplanted Preah Thong, the Brahmin prince, and Mera became Neang Neak, the celestial dancer whose genealogy harkened back to the king of the nagas. These two serpent princesses, Mera and Neang Neak, are one and the same. More important, they are the mythical mothers of the Khmer ethnic group. Not surprisingly, Khmer kings were symbolically married to the naga princess Neang Neak or Mera. Chou Ta Kuan, a Chinese visitor to Angkor in the thirteenth century, gave the following description: Out of the palace rises a golden tower, to the top of which the ruler ascends nightly to sleep. It is common belief that in the tower dwells a spirit, formed like a serpent with nine heads, which is Lord of the entire kingdom. Every night this spirit appears in the shape of a woman, with whom the sovereign couples. Not even the wives of the King may enter here. At the second watch the King comes forth and is then free to sleep with his wives and concubines. Should the spirit fail to appear for a single night, it is a sign that the King’s death is at hand. If, on the other hand, the King should fail to keep his tryst, disaster is sure to follow.9
It is possible that the golden tower where the king engaged in sexual union with the serpent princess is Phimeanakas, a tenth-century temple located inside Angkor Thom. I have long been intrigued and perplexed by one of the objects that King Suryavarman II (1113–1145 or 1150 CE) is holding in his portrait as rendered on a stone bas-relief situated in the south gallery of the twelfth-century temple of Angkor Wat. In the portrait the king is depicted in a segment of a long narrative panel portraying a monumental event in the life of the court. The king is shown on top of a mountain dressed in his courtly regalia and seated on an elaborate naga throne (plate 23). A short inscription written in Sanskrit states: “The Supreme, Sacred Feet, His Lordship Paramavisnuloka on Mount Shivapada receiving homage from his troops.”10 The king is holding what resembles a conch shell in his left hand, and it looks like he is holding a serpent in his right hand (plate 24). In fact, Eleanor Mannikka identifies the object in King Suryavarman’s right hand as a snake: “Quite inexplicably, King Suryavarman is holding a dangling snake in his right hand;
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his left hand, extended to the men in front of him, holds an unidentified object apparently wrapped in cloth.”11 There are a few plausible interpretations of this particular attribute. First, we know that Angkor Wat was dedicated to the Hindu god Vishnu, but the inscription also states that the king is seated on Mount Shivapada, the footprint of Shiva. The serpent thus might be referencing the ascetic form of Shiva. We see a depiction of Shiva as an ascetic at Banteay Srei, where the god’s body is adorned with serpents. Second, I agree with Mannikka’s identification of the object in the king’s right hand as a serpent; however, another possible interpretation might see it as a symbol of the union between himself and the naga princess Mera. More important, the nagi (female serpent) symbolizes water and the king the land, and it is the union of land and water that produces abundance and fertility in the kingdom.12 The significance of the two elements embodied in this founding myth is also manifest in an annual court ritual called Pithi Samrork Tean, or “the ritual of candle dripping wax,” which has been performed at the Royal Palace since 2004.13 This rain-prediction ritual occurs annually during the Bon Ak Ambok, a harvest festival that is celebrated with a boat competition on the Mekong River. The ritual is performed at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on the last full moon of the month of Kadeuk in the traditional Khmer calendar (the equivalent of the month of November in the Gregorian calen dar) in order to predict the rainfall in the next agricultural cycle.14 As all royal ceremonies were forbidden by the Khmer Rouge regime, the rituals were only resumed when King Norodom Sihanouk returned to the throne in 1993. We know that the Bon Ak Ambok festival was held that year to celebrate the restored boat pavilion situated in front of the Royal Palace along the Mekong. We also know that the staging of the Pithi Samrork Tean ritual took place in 2004 under King Norodom Sihamoni. A version of this ritual was videotaped on November 18, 2013, and uploaded on YouTube.15 In it, we see the king and the Bakous, his court Brahmin priests, presiding over this rain-prediction ritual inside the throne room in the Royal Palace. In addition, present at this event are princes, princesses, and ministers. The ritual involved an elaborately arranged altar with offerings of fruit and newly harvested rice, toasted rice, flowers, and incense and candles dedicated to the gods. Toasted rice is an important offering because it indicates a good harvest. Moreover, the most significant ritual object for this occasion is an elaborately carved wooden candleholder in the shape of a naga. The candleholder is painted gold, and on the back of the serpent twenty-four candles are placed, corresponding to the twenty-four provinces in Cambodia.
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The king pays homage to the Buddha and other deities and initiates the ritual by prostrating himself three times while the Brahmin priests light all twenty-four candles. The Brahmins then tip the body of the naga sideways to the right to allow the wax from the candles to drip onto banana leaves placed on the ground below. The pin peat, a traditional Cambodian music ensemble, plays the Sathuka, a sacred tune that is only played to accompany ritual offerings. As the wax drips from the burning candles onto the banana leaves (the dripping wax imitates raindrops), the head Brahmin priest ob serves the patterns it makes and writes down his observations in a notebook. The ritual concludes with the head priest informing the king and the au dience of his predictions of rainfall for the year to come. He reads out, first, the name of each province, then the amount of precipitation it may anticipate in the forthcoming rainy season.16 In sum, the presence of the king at this ritual reinforces the significance of the union between the king, ruler of the land, and the nagi, the serpent princess who has control over the water—a marital union that ensures fertility and harkens back to the stories of Nokor kok Thlok and Preah Thong Neang Neak. Not surprisingly, the story of Preah Thong Neang Neak is also reconstructed and reenacted at Khmer weddings. For example, the bride gives some snakeskins to the groom to symbolize his visit to the underworld, the kingdom of the naga.17 In addition, one of the ritual reenactments in Khmer weddings is called Preah Thong (kann) Sbay Neang Neak, which translates as “Preah Thong holding onto the sbay, his serpent bride’s tail.” In it the groom holds onto his bride’s sbay from behind while the couple walks clockwise in a circle three times to symbolize their entering into her naga realm (figure 7). The ritual reenactment of this founding story takes place in every Khmer wedding. Moreover, in Khmer culture the groom moves in with the bride’s parents after they are married. The significance of this founding myth of the Khmer kingdom attests to its matrilineal genealogy and culture. Likewise, one sees that the same tale inspired Lim Keo Piseth, a Cambodian fashion designer who created a collection titled “Silk for the Princess Nagi” in 2004. Lim’s father, Lim Sylvain, is a talented and established fashion designer and embroiderer who embroidered most of the elaborate costumes for the Royal Ballet of Cambodia. Lim junior was born in Phnom Penh in 1973 and studied fashion design at the Chambre syndicale de haute couture in Paris. He received his diploma in 2000 and returned to live permanently in Cambodia.18 In 2004, he was invited to participate in the SaintEtienne Biennial Design competition in France. This was a week-long festival that attracted artists and fashion designers from all over the world.
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Figure 7. Groom holding onto his bride’s sbay at a Khmer wedding, 2015. Courtesy of San Phalla.
Fifteen other countries were involved, so it was a tough competition. Lim won first prize for his “Silk for the Princess Nagi” collection in 2004.19 He had wanted to come up with something modern yet that retained the Khmer national identity. In addition, he wanted to showcase Khmer handwoven silk. So he designed clothes that are conceptually based on the traditional sbay and the theme of the serpent princess Neang Neak. One of Lim junior’s outfits reinforces my point about the persistent significance of the nagi as an embodiment of Khmer ethnic identity and the nation. This showstopper is a modern wedding gown made of white silk with printed snake-scale patterns (plate 25). Lim designed this wedding gown in the shape of a serpent.20 The upper part of the gown, shaped like the head of a cobra, and the snake-scale patterns on silk create a spiraling effect that enhances the serpentine shape of the gown. To complete the effect of the outfit, the model’s hairdo imitates the shape of a snake’s tongue. Apparently, the designer employed six Cambodian women to embroider designs of tube-shaped beads and silver threads on the white gown, which ended up weighing 2.5 kilograms. Clearly, Lim junior has inherited the family talent for embroidery. He has also transformed the traditional Khmer
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sbay into a modern shawl and created a serpent-shaped wedding gown inspired by the legend Preah Thong Neang Neak. It is arguable that the ancient matrilineal gender structure in Khmer culture might account for the significance of Neang Neak as an embodiment of the Khmer kingdom.21 The tale of Preah Thong Neang Neak has always been part of the court dance repertoire. We know that King Sisowath Monivong (1875–1941) composed his own version of the story and that his court dancers performed it at the Chanchaya pavilion inside the Royal Palace in 1934 to welcome the governor-general of Indochina, René Robin.22 However, the weaving of Neang Neak’s story into the Cambodian national myth began with Khmer court dances created in 1960. Thus this overlapping mythic-historical tale of Preah Thong Neang Neak prevails in Khmer memory and history as a national narrative that reiterates the founding of the Khmer kingdom; it became especially popular after Cambodia gained its independence from France in 1953. Indeed, the reanimation of this tale is one of the ways in which the Khmer monarchy has publicized the legitimacy of the kingdom. A perfect example is a dance-drama choreographed in 1968 featuring the story of Preah Thong Neang Neak that was staged and performed for Prince Norodom Sihanouk, Princess Monineath, and foreign dignitaries at the Preah Suramarit Theater in Phnom Penh. In it, the principal role of Neang Neak was performed by Princess Buppha Devi.23 In 2009, forty-one years later, Princess Buppha Devi, with the help of Preoung Chhieng and other experienced dancers and teachers, collaborated on an updated rendition of that 1960s version. The result was not simply a reconstruction of the earlier version as recollected by the surviving master dancers who danced, taught, and choreographed that story in the 1960s, but also a new dance with significant changes in staging and lighting. The new version was performed in Cambodia and Morocco. The dance-drama begins with Preah Thong engaged in a battle before being ostracized from India and journeying to Nokor Kok Thlok (the Kingdom of the Thlok Tree) where he falls in love with Neang Neak. A scene that is of great relevance to my discussion of Neang Neak as an embodiment of the Khmer kingdom is the ceremony of her wedding to Preah Thong. In the dance the groom holds onto the sbay, the elaborately embroidered golden scarf, which Neang Neak wears over her left shoulder and extends below her hips. The long shoulder scarf symbolizes her serpent tail. This helps the prince to find his way into her realm and reinforces my argument that the serpent is the sign of the matrilineal genealogy of the Khmer kingdom.
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Princess Buppha Devi continues to celebrate the legendary founding female mythic dancers of the Khmer kingdom in an innovative dancedrama, The Legend of Apsara Mera, which she and Proeung Chhieng choreo graphed in 2010 and first performed in Paris that same year. She decided to weave together two major female roles taken from two different narratives in Khmer mythology that embody the origins and concept of Khmer court dance: the apsara, who emerges from the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk, ” and Mera, the celestial dancer, daughter of the naga king who comes from the tale of Kok Thlok (the same character as in the Preah Thong Neang Neak story). The coupling of these two narratives merges the two primordial female dancers in Khmer tradition. Why would Princess Buppha Devi decide to present Preah Thong Neang Neak and Apsara Mera on her 2010 international tour? Surely there were other representative court dances to choose from. The choice was grounded in a desire to reanimate and circulate the founding myth of the old Khmer kingdom in order to promote the current monarchy’s version of nationalism. This is not a new gambit, however; every time there is a political rupture that threatens to erase the cultural identity of the kingdom, this mythic narrative ritual reemerges and is performed. We must ask: How is the recent social and political context different from that earlier period of nationalism and the arts in Cambodia? The period called Sangkum Reastr Niyum (1955–1970) covering the years of Sihanouk-dominated Cambodia is considered by many survivors to have been the golden age of Cambodian nationalism. Many Khmers also consider the late 1950s to 1960s one of the golden ages of Cambodian culture.24 It was in the 1960s that many art forms were revised or invented. However, the changes in the arts were not simply a reaction to or a native internalization of a French colonial fetish for ancient and traditional Khmer arts and culture but also an articulation of an independent Cambodian approach to traditional notions of Khmer dance, arts, architecture, and urban planning. Those changes represented a combination of what Kenneth Frampton has called “critical regionalism” and a Cambodian revision and reconstruction of the performing arts through memory and oral tradition, in opposition to the colonial hegemony of France and the precolonial hegemony of Siam. As an architectural historian, Frampton defines “critical regionalism” as “a local culture of architecture . . . consciously evolved to express opposition to the domination of hegemonic power.”25 In the Cambodian context this came to fruition in the 1960s. The late Queen Sisowath Kossamak Neari-
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rath (1904–1975) and her son, the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk (1922–2012), began a period of invention, innovation, and revised tradition of Khmer arts and architecture, especially court dance. According to Princess Buppha Devi, “Due to warfare and political history between Cambodia and Siam, there were exchanges of artistic ideas of dance movements and gestures between the two courts. However, Queen Kossamak Nearirath gathered all the old dancers and asked them to edit out traces of Siamese influence in Khmer court dance.”26 Khmer court dance also witnessed substantial changes in costume under Queen Kossamak. Thai court dancers wore a cloak-like garment with an elaborately embroidered collar that covered the female dancer’s entire back. The queen mother considered the cloak to be quintessentially Siamese, so she replaced it with the Khmer sbay, a gold-and-jewel-encrusted brocade scarf that is draped over the left shoulder and extends down to the lower back of all dancers who dance female roles. Moreover, the samput (skirt) worn by all dancers was raised to just below the knees to expose their feet and ankles. Khmer court dancers flex both their feet and hands when they dance; the raised samput makes visible the flexible dance movements exe cuted by the female dancers’ bejeweled feet.27 In addition, manuscripts on court dances and song lyrics that were written in Siamese were also purged by Queen Kossamak.28 It was through memory that the old Khmer master dancers gathered and edited out all acquired Siamese gestures. Each of these masters contributed to the rewriting and editing of the basic gestures for the female roles that they remembered as specifically Khmer. The 1960s were also a period of great innovation and invention in traditional court dance. In 1960, a French film director, Marcel Camus, went to Cambodia to shoot his feature film L’oiseau de paradis. He wanted Princess Buppha Devi to play the leading female role because she was also a court dancer; however, her grandmother, Queen Mother Kossamak, considered it highly inappropriate for a princess to participate in a film spectacle. But Camus was persistent and sought to find a suitable way for Princess Buppha Devi to appear in his film that would not degrade her rank and social standing. Eventually the queen mother agreed to allow the young princess to make a cameo appearance in Camus’ film as herself, a court dancer. The queen then invented a full-length apsara dance for her granddaughter. She had her researchers study the bas-reliefs at Angkor Wat and other ancient Khmer temples that depict dancers. They copied the headdresses and costumes worn by the ancient court dancers.29As a result, Princess Buppha Devi appears in Camus’ film performing the apsara dance wearing a set of
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invented costumes, jewelry, and a few dance movements based on the temple reliefs. The queen mother also elaborated on the movements and gestures thus making a longer dance, and new songs were written to be performed by the pinpeat ensemble. Sin Sisamouth, one of the most popular crooners of Khmer pop music in the 1960s, who was killed during the Khmer Rouge period, sang the poetic lyrics. This was the first time a male pop singer had been invited to sing with the pinpeat ensemble in a Khmer court dance. The result was that of a melodic male voice describing his vision of seven apsaras, heavenly dancers, emerging from the fixed stone bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat. The leading role of the Apsara Sar (the white apsara dressed in white silk with an elaborate gold headdress to make her stand out from the other six apsaras) was danced by Princess Buppha Devi. The dance begins with a solo by the white apsara, who motions from a static pose based on the stone bas-relief of a temple. She enters gracefully. She executes her dance gestures illustrating the lyrics sung by Sin’s voice describing how happy the nymph is to see flowers blooming in the garden. The rest of the apsaras emerge and join her. They are euphorically happy as they pick flowers from the garden. A performance of the Apsara dance choreographed by the queen mother with Princess Buppha Devi dancing the lead role and Sin’s voice in the background is captured in the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk’s 1966 film, Apsara.30 Subsequently, Princess Buppha Devi danced the newly invented dance at the Opera Garnier in Paris.31 The audience there included President Charles de Gaulle and her father, King (then Prince) Norodom Sihanouk. The Khmer court dances that we see today derive from the nationalist and revisionist period of the 1960s. This nationalist project resonates with what Frantz Fanon has written regarding culture and nationalism: In the colonial situation, culture, which is doubly deprived of the support of the nation and of the state, falls away and dies. The condition for its existence is therefore national liberation and the renaissance of the state. The nation is not only the condition of culture, [but] its fruitfulness, its continuous renewal, and its deepening. It is also a necessity. It is the fight for national existence which sets culture moving and opens to it the doors of creation. Later on it is the nation which will ensure the conditions and framework necessary to culture. The nation gathers together the various indispensible elements necessary for the creation of a culture, those elements which alone can give it credibility, validity, life, and creative power.32
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Indeed, Khmer court dance had been exoticized by the French during the colonial period. But they never interfered with it. Moreover, while the French claimed to have preserved the traditional arts of Cambodia, it was only during the nationalist period that Khmer court dances and other art forms were allowed to generate their creative potential. This golden age of modern Cambodian culture came to an abrupt end when the Khmer monarchy was overthrown by the American-backed Khmer Republic under the leadership of General Lon Nol and Prince Sisowath Sirik Matak in 1970. Once again, the Khmer court and its arts were interrupted. King Sihanouk and some members of the royal family went to live in exile in China and France. As we know, the deposed king sided with the Khmer Rouge and anticipated that they would help to return him to power. The most devastating impact on Khmer court dance took place under the Khmer Rouge regime. The regime’s desire to annihilate all art and culture belonging to the monarchy took the form of actually killing many of the master dancers and musicians.33 Through the United Nations’ intervention, King Norodom Sihanouk returned to Cambodia in 1991. Princess Buppha Devi, who also returned from France to Cambodia to join a few surviving master dancers such as Preoung Chhieng, Chea Sami, Soth Sam On, and Em Theav, faced a difficult challenge. Under French colonialism there had been efforts to preserve traditional Khmer arts and dance; the Khmer Rouge regime’s efforts had been the opposite.34 The surviving danc ers were faced with a double genocide: loss of human life and of culture. Indeed, this cultural extermination has been labeled by Raphael Lemkin as “cultural genocide.”35 There was and remains an urgency to resurrect lost court dances as a response to the Khmer Rouge regime’s elimination of the dance archive collected in the colonial era and the post-independence period. More important, the surviving dance masters from the 1960s were aging quickly; they needed to transmit their knowledge to the next generation. There are several reasons for the Royal Ballet of Cambodia’s choice to reanimate and retell the story of Preah Thong Neang Neak and The Legend of Apsara Mera in dance-dramas on the international stage. First, it was in clear response to the cultural lacunae that the Khmer Rouge regime had created. Second, as mentioned earlier, the 1960s is considered by many to have been a golden age of Cambodian art and culture, so one can read this as nostalgia for that decade. Third, Queen Kossamak Nearirath was a very generous patron of Khmer art and culture, and Princess Buppha Devi wished to honor her grandmother by performing dances that were sponsored and aesthetically approved by her. Last, because the princess wanted to
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introduce Cambodian art and culture to the world, it made sense to begin by sharing the founding myth of the Khmer kingdom, especially that of Neang Neak and Mera, the mothers of the Khmer ethnic group. This reanimation on the international stage has reinforced Neang Neak as the mythic mother of the Khmer ethnic group and made her the representation of the Cambodian kingdom in the post–Khmer Rouge period. Indeed, one of the most ambitious and innovative dance-dramas that Princess Buppha Devi and Proeung Chhien choreographed and staged in 2010 was The Legend of Apsara Mera, in that it ingeniously combines the stories of Kok Thlok, Kambu, and Mera. It focuses on the two female figures in the origins of Khmer dance, Apsara and Mera. Once again we see the resurfacing and reanimating of the founding myth of the Khmer kingdom. However, in a global moment, the princess not only preserved traditional Khmer court dance, she was also innovative and strategic in the post–Khmer Rouge period: she wanted to resurrect, reanimate, and repackage the Cambo dian national culture created by her late grandmother, Queen Kossamak Nearirath, for international venues. She interwove the apsara dance, the signature role that her grandmother invented for her in 1960, with the story of Mera/Neang Neak, the serpent princess from the Kok Thlok myth.36 The Legend of Apsara Mera was first performed at the Chaktomuk Theater in Phnom Penh with King Sihamoni in the audience. Subsequently, it toured Monaco, France, and the United States. (It was performed at the Brooklyn Academy of Music as part of the Season of Cambodia Art Festival in New York City in April 2013.) The performance I analyze in this chapter, however, is the one that took place at the Chaktomuk Theater in Phnom Penh in 2010. The Legend of Apsara Mera was innovative and strategic in that it lent itself to showcasing two major aesthetic concepts in Khmer court dance.37 First, according to dance master and choreographer Proeung Chhieng, the dancer’s body represents a tree: her limbs are the branches, and four basic hand gestures symbolize a stem, a leaf, a flower, and a fruit. When the fruit is ripe, it detaches from the stem and falls onto the ground, out of which emerges a new tree, thus completing and repeating the cycle of birth and rebirth. This aesthetic principle is obviously derived from nature and parallels the cycle of life, death, and rebirth.38 Second, Cambodian dance is about curved lines; the curves are inspired by and imitate the shape and movements of a serpent—namely S-curves and circles. Furthermore, the dancer wears a headdress topped with heads of nagi and an elaborately embroidered scarf (sbay) that symbolizes the tail of the nagi.39 The dancer’s body thus becomes the serpent.
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Although these two aesthetic principles have evolved and become part of the pedagogy of Khmer court dance, many of the older dancers and teachers never characterized the aesthetics of Khmer court dance and its many gestures so coherently. The genealogy of this pedagogical articulation and aesthetic consciousness might have originated with the late Chheng Phon (1930–2016), who had a propensity to philosophize and endow gestures and body movements in Khmer arts with meanings. It is through this evolving articulation of meanings that the conceptual principles behind Khmer court dance and identity as they developed in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are based on these two major concepts that are respectively embodied and set into motion by the two primordial dancers, Apsara and Mera. It makes sense that these two aesthetic concepts harken back to the founding myth of the Khmer kingdom, with the tree and its fruit reminding one of the thlok tree and the serpent referring to the kingdom of the naga and Mera, daughter of the king of the nagas. One of the major challenges was how to make clear to the audience, especially foreign viewers, how Apsara, the heavenly dancer who emerges from the “Churning of the Ocean of Milk,” is transformed into Mera, the daughter of the naga king, who is also a dancer par excellence. The solution was to have two different dancers assume the roles of Apsara and Mera and make the distinction visible in their headdresses: Apsara enters at the beginning of the dancedrama wearing a floral crown, and Mera enters toward the end wearing a headdress with three serpents on top of it.40 Unlike the conclusion of the Preah Thong Neang Neak, which simply narrates and sequentially reenacts events from a traditional Khmer court wedding in sumptuous costumes, The Legend of Apsara Mera ends with a makara dance. The dancers are paired and reconfigured into four straight lines—female dancers on the left and males on the right. Together they regroup to form the shape of a makara, a mythical water crocodile. Each dancer holds fans in both hands, and the unfolding fans mimic the scales on the long tail of this aquatic creature. The Makor dance is traditionally led by Moni Mekhala, the goddess of the sea, but in this case it is led by Preah Thong and Neang Neak. The long tail of the makara could also be read as an extention of Neang Neak’s sbay, or tail. Furthermore, this transformation of a makara dance into a naga is done so as to narrate and display the tale/tail of Neang Neak.41 Apsara Mera is thus not simply an attempt to breathe new life into an old art form and an old story. It also narrates and animates a new form of nationalism—the new Kingdom of Cambodia in the post–Khmer Rouge period. In fact, as Princess Buppha Devi stated
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e mphatically in an i nterview: “After the demise of the Khmer Rouge regime dance was no longer taught at the palace. We cannot keep the dance just at the palace now—it belongs to the people. It is the property of the nation and not just for the King and the royal family to enjoy. Dance is secularized; it is the national pride of Cambodia, and the people need to help us protect the dance—it is our fragile heritage.”42 The Legend of Apsara Mera may therefore be seen as a double reaffirmation of the essential roles that these mythic mothers and primordial dancers continue to play in reassuring the cultural identity of the Khmer kingdom. It is noteworthy that the traditional role of the monarchy as the symbolic mediator between the goddesses and the people has been disrupted. Underlying this, of course, is the fact that the current Khmer monarch cannot financially support a dance troupe within the palace. The traditional role of Khmer court dance as sacred and ritualistic has been demolished. It is now “for the people” and is performed in theaters in Cambodia as well as abroad.
Performing Khmer Cultural Identity in the Cambodian Diaspora of the United States Another powerful Khmer court dance that features Neang Neak was choreographed by one of Cambodia’s most innovative yet traditionally grounded dancers and choreographers, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro. In 2005 Cheam Shapiro choreographed a dance-drama called Seasons of Migration. In contrast to the Legend of Apsara Mera choreographed by Princess Buppha Devi, Seasons of Migration was created by a commoner who at that time was living in Long Beach, California. Cheam Shapiro was born in 1967 in Phnom Penh. She was twelve years old when the Khmer Rouge genocide ended in 1979. She began her training in Khmer court dance in 1980 at the School of Fine Arts under the few surviving older master dancers.43 In 1991, married to John Shapiro, she emigrated to United States, and together they founded the Khmer Arts Academy in Long Beach. The name of their dance company has since evolved into Sophiline Arts Ensemble, based in Ta Khmao, Cambodia.44 The dancers who performed the Seasons of Migration in Long Beach in 2005 came from the Royal University of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh, and the dance was thus a collaborative project between homeland and diaspora. According to John Shapiro, the English title Seasons of Migration was inspired by Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih‘s 1966 novel Season of Migration to the
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North.45 In the novel, the main character is educated in England and subsequently returns home to Sudan, where he faces the challenge of cultural reintegration.46 Likewise, Cheam Shapiro is a diasporic subject who left her homeland for the United States and subsequently struggled with her identity as both American and Cambodian. She was trained in the Khmer court traditions, but when she came to the United States was exposed to other dance and artistic expressions, which in turn contributed to her need to negotiate between tradition and innovation in her artistic and cultural identity. As she elaborated: Seasons of Migration is a dance about culture shock. Like all immigrants, I experienced the pain and the joy of adjusting to life in the new country and culture. To reflect on the experience of transformation of identity, I have choreographed a piece of Cambodian classical dance called Seasons of Mi gration. It is an attempt to address the contemporary issue and theme of culture shock and express it through Cambodian classical dance. Seasons of Migration is a Cambodian classical dance that is performed in four sections, with each section representing a state of culture shock.47
Those sections are Tevada Daur Tes (Euphoria), Neang Neak (Rejection and acceptance), Neang Amari (Light and shadow), and Harihara (Balance and harmony). The section most relevant to my argument regarding the serpent representation of the Khmer kingdom is Neang Neak. The version of Seasons of Migration that I analyze appears in John Bishop’s 2005 documentary film of the same title. The stage set for Neang Neak:Rejection and Acceptance comprises two naga balustrades and a multitiered platform evoking the temple ruins of Angkor. Sam Satya, one of Cambodia’s most celebrated dancers, premiered the role of Neang Neak. In the dance she wears the traditional gold serpent headdress, but one of the conspicuously innovative aspects of her costume is a sbay elongated to represent a serpent’s long tail. Clad in the finest gold embroidered silk, jewelry, and a tall gold-and-jewel-encrusted crown, she enters the stage from the viewer’s left with her right arm raised and the fingers of her right hand gracefully flexed upward to represent a five-headed serpent, while her left arm is stretched below her hips, palm up and fingers flexed downward to imitate the tail of a naga. This is one of the principal poses in Khmer court dance. The effect is that of the serpent princess Neang Neak crawling slowly along with her long tail as she emerges from the forest into a temple ruin. Sam Satya literally seems to transform her supple, agile body
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into that of a serpent as she moves gracefully up the multitiered platform. Her hand gestures illustrate the poetic Khmer lyrics sung by a singer, accompanied by the pinpeat, the traditional Khmer musical ensemble: “Once upon a time, there lived a divine female serpent, who glided majestically through the heavenly forest of heaven. Her heart filled with immense delight.”48 Subsequently, the sralai (oboe) plays a melody called “Cheut Chap” accompanied by drums that are beaten louder and faster; this parallels Neang Neak’s emotional rupture and identity crisis when she realizes that she has a tail. As Cheam Shapiro explains: “When she turns around, she realizes that her tail is wrapped around her legs and she becomes confused and upset with her tail. She starts to tear it off violently, but because her tail is part of her flesh and blood, it causes her pain and she turns away.”49 Thus the choreographer has ingeniously adapted the conventional Khmer court dance gestures and movements to tell a new story of social struggle with cultural displacement and identity. In this case, Cheam Shapiro has the dancer pick up her sbay in both hands and literally tear it apart, repeating the same gestures five times. But she cannot rid herself of her tail/tale. Sam Satya shared with us her understanding of the symbolic significance of the tail in an interview: “The sbay is a symbol of one’s life. You try to tear it off and think you are not Khmer. One day in your sleep it will dawn on you. Even if you denounce your identity, your heritage and ancestry are still Khmer. You want to rip the sbay off to feel like everyone else, but you should accept your special quality that colors you differently.”50 After that moment of conflict and tension, the music slows down to set the stage for Neang Neak to reflect on her new life in a new place. She looks down, picks up her shimmering golden tail, and embraces it (plate 26). She sees that her tail is a physical marker of difference that prevents her from assimilating to a new culture, but she also “realizes that her tail makes her unique, and instead of rejecting it, she realizes it is part of her identity that she needs to learn to accept.”51 This solo concludes with Neang Neak dancing her dance of acceptance. Cheam Shapiro’s Neang Neak: Rejection and Acceptance reinforces my argument of how the serpent princess represents Khmer ethnic identity and the Khmer kingdom in a number of ways. First, it is clear that Khmer artists and dancers are very conscious of the symbolic meaning of Neang Neak and Mera as the mothers of dance and of their ethnic origins. Thus, the tale of Nokor Koh Thlok is perennially told and revitalized under different political regimes and is performed for audiences around the world as a sight/site of Khmer identity. Neang Neak’s tale has entered the Khmer national con-
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sciousness and imagination as part of the symbolic order. Second, Cheam Shapiro’s choreography, staging, and interpretation of the character of Neang Neak from the Cambodian diasporic space of Long Beach, California, enabled her to rethink and reconfigure this primordial female figure in Khmer myth and history. In Cambodia, Neang Neak is one of the many baromey (wise and virtuous spirits). She is known as the wife of Preah Thong, who is “jealous, authoritative, and prone to outbursts of anger.”52 However, in Cheam Shapiro’s dance-drama, she is no longer simply a sacred ancestor but also a culturally displaced Khmer woman who, due to her social and economic conditions, is compelled to express self-doubt and to reevaluate her racial and ethnic identity. As an independent choreographer and visionary dancer, Cheam Shapiro has given new voice and agency to this important Khmer female character. Neang Neak is no longer just a body that performs gestures and movements illustrating the lyrics of songs sung from the side of the stage. This Neang Neak narrates her own tale of emotional turmoil due to cultural displace ment. Cheam Shapiro has created a character who takes control of her own body, moves to her own rhythm, and reacts to the music from the pinpeat ensemble according to her temperament. The alternation between homeland and the Cambodian diaspora and the effects of this changing cultural space on Cheam Shapiro’s subjectivity and creativity resonate with what Paul Gilroy has said about the articulation of cultural identity in the diaspora, “It ain’t where you’re from, it’s where you’re at.”53 Indeed, Cheam Shapiro was “at” Long Beach, California, where she choreographed Seasons of Migration; thus it tackled the themes of immigration and the negotiation of cultural identity. Diasporic subjects naturally inhabit multiple spaces and have to perpetually negotiate their identities. Given the prominent role that Neang Neak and Mera play as representations of the Khmer kingdom and Khmer ethnic identity, it is very intriguing that there is no shrine dedicated to their spirits in Cambodia. It is particularly curious because animism is alive and well in Khmer culture. There are many boramey believed to be images from the Angkorian period or beyond,54 and there are even replicas of these images. Shrines are dedicated to boramey throughout Cambodia. Without doubt Neang Neak is one of the boramey, but she is not popular enough among the local animist cults to merit a shrine.55 There is, however, a cement statue of her at the roundabout near King Norodom Sihamoni’s royal residence in Siem Reap (plate 27). She is dressed like an apsara found at the twelfth-century temple of Angkor Wat and holds a lotus bud in her right hand. In addition, she is
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wearing a nine-headed naga headdress and has a coiled tail. Her formal appearance demonstrates the conflation of Apsara and Mera developed in Princess Buppha’s dance-drama. Considering that Khmer kings are symbolically married to Neang Neak/Mera, it is only appropriate that her statue be placed near the royal residence. I suggest that both Neang Neak and Mera have been part of the Khmer national consciousness and imagination for so long that they lie beyond the local spirit cult. In sum, this is not “a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing”56 but a rich and persistent narrative that weaves together legend, myth, memory, and history to preserve the genealogy of Khmer ethnicity and cultural identity in a changing and global world. Ang Choulean, a Cambodian anthropologist, has expressed his concern that culturally insensitive readers and interpreters might dismiss the story of Nokor Kok Thlok as a simple myth lacking historical validity. In the conclusion of an article about this tale explaining local Khmer understanding and interpretation of the architectural symbolism of the Bayon, a twelfth-century Maha yana Buddhist temple found at Angkor, Ang has written: Underlining the union of a human [Brahmin prince] and a nagi [female serpent] as a prelude to a civilization, it reminds us quite strongly of the myth of Kok Thlok. Manifestly, this last is founded on a much older mythological basis. As people tell it these days, one can connect [the two]. . . . But precisely because the basis is ancient, one would be mistaken to treat it as a simple folktale (in the French sense of the term, in other words in a rather deprecatory, or even condescending fashion, because of its somewhat dated connotation).57
This local mythic understanding and interpretation of past and present might explain why the figures of Neang Neak and Mera have enduring symbolic power in Cambodia. Myth and legend perform very didactic roles in everyday life in Cambodian culture, especially when stories are narrated in performing arts such as dance-drama and shadow plays. This didactic function aligns with what Cheam Shapiro discussed in her retelling and reconfiguration of Neang Neak in Seasons of Migration: “In everyday life, you could see that we learned about mythology because myths provide lessons for us about love, betrayal, persistence in achieving certain goals and about doing good things to the universe. Instead of taking the mythology and referring [it] to our lives, I take a contemporary experience and turn it into a mythology.”
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I began this chapter by citing the late Stuart Hall’s perspective on nationalism and cultural identity as the theoretical framework for my argument about the serpent as the embodiment of Khmer cultural and ethnic identities in the post–Khmer Rouge period. I will conclude with what Hall has to say about the evolving nature of cultural identity and national consciousness: “Cultural identities come from somewhere, have histories. But, like everything that is historical, they undergo constant transformation. Far from being fixed in some essentialized past, they are subject to the continuous ‘play’ of history, culture, and power.”58 Indeed, the history of the nagi or mera as one of the visual markers of Khmer ethnic identity and as an embodiment of the Khmer kingdom is by no means fixed; visual representations of the naga in Khmer art have also evolved over time. For instance, there seems to have been a transformation of the serpent into a dragon in twelfth-century Khmer art. Visual evidence of this change can be seen in two architectural pediments: one from Banteay Samre, a Hindu temple dated to the early twelfth century; and the other from Preah Khan, a Mahayana Buddhist temple dated to the late twelfth century. The subject rendered on these two stone pediments is “Anantas yana or Vishnu Reclining on His Serpent, Sesa.” Vishnu is one of the Hindu gods who preserves the universe. We see him reclining on a serpent named Sesa, “the infinite one,” on the cosmic ocean. In contrast to what is clearly a snake on which Vishnu is reclining in an eleventh-century carving found at Kbal Spean situated on the Kulen mountain (plate 28), the pediment from the late twelfth-century temple of Preah Khan depicts him on a dragon (plate 29). In short, by the twelfth century the serpent has been transformed into a dragon-like sea creature. It is unclear what accounts for this change in the depiction of the naga. It is possible, however, that Chinese artistic influence might have contributed to it. Twelfth-century Angkor was a cosmopolitan center, and there is an account written by a Chinese diplomat, Chou Ta Kuan, who visited the Khmer kingdom a century later.59 The late Lan Sunnary, a Cambodian art historian, contended that depiction of the Chinese dragon first appeared in Cham art in the kingdom of Champa and then it made its way into Khmer art in the twelfth century.60 More significant, the myth, legend, and history of Neang Neak and Mera were preserved for centuries through oral tradition. Memory and the performing arts played major recurrent roles in the preservation and reanimation of this tale under different political regimes, comparable to the selftransformation and self-rejuvenation performed by the serpent: Neang Neak or Mera may age, but she can always shed her skin and start anew. Moreover,
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these nagas possess poison venom; they are able to poison others, and perhaps even themselves. This ambiguous relation between poison and remedy resonates with Jacques Derrida’s use of the Greek concept of phar makon, which he argued resists a binary opposition.61 In this chapter I have interpreted the serpent, especially the nagi as an embodiment of Cambodia in the post-genocide period. Like the serpent who is poisoned/poisonous but also capable of shedding its old skin, it is possible for the once-poisoned (traumatized) Cambodian nation to reinvent its identity in the aftermath of the genocide. In other words, the experiencing of trauma is neither poison nor cure but can contain both poison and remedy. I believe that the same is true of the traumatic experiences that artists expressed in their works pro duced in the aftermath of the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and its diaspora—they are poison cures.
I will begin my conclusion with a poignant tale that Rithy Panh shared in his 2012 memoir, The Elimination, in which he described a mother’s plight. During the Khmer Rouge era, this woman learned that all her children had been killed by Angkar, the faceless organization. She did not know what crimes they had been accused of, how they had died, or where their bodies lay. Victims of kamtech, they had just vanished. The mother gathered stones and stuffed them into the sleeves of her shirt and the cuffs of her black trousers. She made herself necklaces and bracelets out of stones. Bearing the weight of these stones, she walked into a nearby river. Slowly, she sank into the river’s depths.1 This mother’s act of suicide is one response to Theodor Adorno’s statement: “But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living.”2 In this case, the mother chose to end her life because she could not bear the weight of the trauma and loss of her children’s bodies. The lack of even a single physical trace of her children made it difficult, if not impossible, for her to mourn their deaths. Indeed, we know how important it is to grieve, because otherwise violence persists in memory. If this mother had found some physical evidence of her children’s bodies, she would have probably spared her own life—but she was haunted by the unbearable legacy of absence. Had this mother decided to go on living, how might she have coped with her trauma? Of course, she could have turned to the Khmer Buddhist teachings that attribute suffering to kam (Skt. karma), the law of cause and effect in Buddhist teaching. In order to terminate the endless cycle of rebirth, she would be encouraged to forgive the nameless and faceless killers who had murdered her children. In theory, there is no God in Theravada Buddhist teaching; there are only the laws of kamma, and these laws determine and punish perpetrators’ actions and consequences. Alternatively, this
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mother might have sought psychotherapy.3 Of course, there is always the problem of its availability and cost: Would she have been able to afford this expensive treatment? It is more possible that she might have gone mad. This book has been searching for answers in the Cambodian context to Adorno’s question: How can one go on living and creating art in the aftermath of genocide? In this regard, the blurring of the line between fact and fiction in Panh’s story resonates with the despair of Soth Polin, who wrote that his astonishment and grief prevented him from continuing to write fiction “because the reality surpasses the imagination.”4 We are reminded of the illegible bloody footprints discussed in my introduction. Indeed, on the one hand, we can dismiss them as traces left by painters’ feet, but on the other, the history of violence is so horrific that visitors to the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum are haunted by the history of the space—knowledge of an experience so shocking that they can easily misinterpret these footprints as belonging to prisoners of the Khmer Rouge. As I stated in my introduction, I did not set out to write a book on the bleeding edge of theory. Rather, my goal has been to make use of appropriate theoretical analytics to shed light on the roles played by arts and visual culture in the imagination and lived experience of Cambodians on the edge of life and death. These are people who must find ways to cope, to go on living after having survived the US bombing, the civil war, and the Khmer Rouge genocide. This book has been more concerned, therefore, with the ways in which art and visual culture represent and mediate our understanding of memory, trauma, conflict, morality, ethics, recuperation, healing, and aporia in the aftermath of the genocide. I have pointed out that the broken body, especially the broken female body, is the site and sight of trauma in the Cambodian cultural context. Indeed, this broken body appears as a recurring trope of trauma throughout this book. Cambodia is arguably a matrilineal culture, and thus the female body comprises elements of water and land; the nagi is the embodiment of the Khmer kingdom. It appears that the only time in the modern history of Cambodia when the female body was removed from its central, symbolic role was under Democratic Kampuchea. The Khmer Rouge regime devalued human lives; thus there was no need for the traditional patriarchy to control the female reproductive system. As a result, the female body shifted during that time from the progenitor of the Khmer race to a dispensable and disposable body for manual labor. For example, a Khmer Rouge slogan was “No gain in keeping, no loss in weeding out.”5 In other words, there is no loss in destroying you and no gain in keeping you. Another slogan stated,
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“Angkar is the mother and father of all young children, as well as all adolescent boys and girls.”6 Indeed, young children and teenagers were taught to embrace the seeming gender neutrality and facelessness of Angkar and turn against their parents. I would argue that it was a father figure that embodied Democratic Kampuchea, leaving the nation motherless. A broken yet resilient scarred female body began to resume her iconic role in post-genocide Cambodia, not simply as a giver of birth, but as a female subject who is unfortunately burdened with the scars of war. She mourns her dead children, and now she is also laden with the responsibility of keeping her surviving dispersed family members in the homeland and in the diaspora alive. Moreover, this female corporeal trope of trauma is woven throughout the five chapters of this book. In chapter 1, Amy Lee Sanford’s mending of the broken pots in her installation and performance Full Circle is an embodiment of the post–Khmer Rouge Cambodian nation. In chapter 2, Leang Seckon’s Heavy Skirt series, inspired by the wear and tear of his mother’s heavy skirt, could be read as a metaphor for the traumatic legacy left by the American bombing of Cambodia. The one hundred patches that were used to cover up the holes in her skirt mirror aerial images of the scarred landscape below; the patchwork is analogous to the suturing of wounds. Wounds may heal, but scars will remain as obdurate reminders of the original injuries. Likewise, in chapter 4 the krama, a humble checkered scarf that adorns the Khmer body (and is thus a visual marker of Khmer identity), shifted its meanings in accordance with different political regimes in Cambodia. Lastly, in chapter 5, the metaphor of the traumatized female body is embodied by the figure of Neang Neak, mythic mother and progenitor of the Khmer race. Neang Neak is also a celestial dancer; the body is thus an important instrument of artistic expression. In Khmer court dance, the cessation of bodily movement on stage symbolizes death, accounting for the persistent reanimation of this dance-drama: for so long as the serpent princess continues to dance, the Cambodian nation and its diaspora continues to live, reclaiming and reconfiguring its national and cultural identity through the arts. With the exception of my discussion of You Khin’s painting Cheun See Babor Thnot (Chinese eating sweet palm fruit rice pudding), which I argued in chapter 4 is an allegory of the political entanglement between Cambodia and China, I have resisted an allegorical reading of the mother figure and broken female body in Cambodian visual culture in the post-genocide period for several reasons. First, allegory as a figural representation, especially in the arts, was imported into Cambodia during the French Protectorate period.
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Much has been written about the definitions and concepts of allegory in the European and American traditions. In the plastic arts, especially three-dimensional sculpture, “allegory almost always requires the human body as the site of meaning for universal truths and thus serve[s] well those artists, viewers, and collectors excessively interested in human form.” 7 In the context of Cambodia, French-imported allegorical representations of Cambodia have reduced the Khmer female body to an exotic and erotic body intended for the male gaze. Moreover, it desacralized the local Khmer body, especially that of court dancers, whose ritual role was to mediate between heaven and earth. That is, allegory as an artistic mode of visual representation devalued the importance of local female subjectivity. The closest equivalent for “allegory” in the Khmer language is rūpādhiṭṭhān, which means “to focus on an object” in the religious sense, as in meditating upon a religious image or icon.8 In general, Cambodians consider statues found in public spaces, as well as Angkorian statues of Hindu and Buddhist deities on display at the National Museum in Phnom Penh, to be sacred because each possesses a boramey. The cult of boramey is part of the pre-Hindu and Buddhist Khmer animist religion and culture. Moreover, Cambodians believe that when ancient statues are stolen and taken out of the country, the spirits inside them die.9 I propose, therefore, to interpret the Khmer broken female body in the post-genocide period as iconicity and not as allegory. I believe that it is important to reclaim her sacred status as an iconic embodiment of the Cambodian nation and thus restore her dignity and identity. The broken body of the Cambodian nation needs to be mended in order for it to be complete and whole again, but is this possible? Indeed, in recent years, some of the ancient Khmer Hindu and Buddhist statues that were stolen during the war and post-genocide period and sold to museums and private collectors in Europe and North America have been repatriated. Cambodians have celebrated the return of these stolen statues with elaborate rituals, not only as national treasures, but because they believe strongly that the return of these sacred objects helps to heal the nation of its trauma. For example, Nhean Socheat, a Cambodian anthropologist, wrote: Bringing statues back home means a lot to Cambodia and to our people as a whole. First, it restores a part of the spirit and soul of Cambodia that has been lost. Second, the Kingdom is culturally broken by her missing antiquities and thus her heritage is scattered all over the world. Bringing these precious artifacts home helps heal Cambodia’s soul,
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restore her heritage and reassemble our culture. Finally, the returned statues serve as tools to teach younger generations and the Cambodian public in general about the value of their cultural heritage, property, history and identity. The return of our historical art objects that are still abroad will spur young Cambodians to want to guarantee that the country’s cultural heritage will be readily available to enrich the lives of their children and grandchildren. In short, the presence of these returned statues in the Kingdom will speak to the heart of every Cambodian and bring a healing that nothing else can.10
Indeed, when statues are stolen and taken out of the country, the spirits inhabiting the icons die. The arts clearly play an important role in helping to heal the Cambodian nation of her trauma and restoring her identity. Like the broken female body, an embodiment of the Cambodian nation, many of these stolen objects need to be reassembled and mended in order to make them appear whole once more. In most cases, the arts offer a cathartic space for difficult dialogues about conflict and reconciliation in the post-genocide period. However, the power of the arts to heal the trauma of a bifurcated nation has its limitations: the icons, too, are marked by scars of trauma. They are thus, paradoxically, both resilient and fragile—they can shatter at any moment. In sum, it is through the writing of Khmer psychiatrist Chhim Sotheara and through the lens of Cambodian and Cambodian diasporic artists that we come to recognize local epistemological ways of knowing and under standing trauma. Now we can begin to strategize and heal the broken vessel of the nation and restore its dignity and identity. To this end, I would like to conclude with an insightful comment by Toni Morrison, the African Ameri can novelist who has had her share of personal and historical trauma: “I believe that all the characters in my books are redeemed at the end. Some of them dropped dead. Some don’t have anything, but they have knowledge. They know something at the end of the books that they didn’t at the begin ning and that for me, the acquisition of knowledge about oneself in the world that is redemption.”11 In the case of Cambodia, arts and visual culture cannot provide complete redemption or psychological closure after genocide, but they can certainly help to open up a forum for an extremely difficult dialogue about
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issues of trauma, betrayal, conflict, reconciliation, forgiveness, and aporia. We have learned something about understanding the specificity of trauma and the reclaiming of a national cultural identity in the post-genocide (or “auto-genocide”) period. Most important, we have recognized the potentialities and the limitations of local arts in healing the wounds of a deeply fractured and politically divisive Cambodian nation. That, for me, is the initial reclaiming of a Cambodian epistemological understanding, knowing, and representation of trauma. For the first generation of survivors of the Khmer Rouge genocide and the “post-memory” generation, this insight and the subsequent translation of one’s traumatic history and how it affects one’s racial, ethnic, cultural, and national identity has helped to provide much needed moral clarity. In this regard, what Vandy Rattana said—“history is identity” (and I might add here, memory)— further reinforces my conclusions about trauma, history, arts, and the recovering of a cultural and national identity.12 Moreover, I concur with Morrison that this acquisition of knowledge is fundamental to the reclaiming of not only national and ethnic identity but a mooring of oneself in an unstable and violent world. While this knowledge (i.e., the arts) could serve as a moral compass that enables one to find one’s path to healing one’s trauma, complete closure does not seem possible; once a life is broken, it is irreparable. As I have pointed out repeatedly, the trauma expressed through the arts and visual culture that has been created in the aftermath of the US bombing, the civil war, and the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and its diaspora is not a poison that cures, but both a poison and a cure. I would like to close with lines from Chanthou Oeur’s poignant poem, Snarm, which I believe captures the politics and poetics of the traces of trauma examined in this book and underlines the difficulty of expressing ineffable wounds: Snarm inscribes shallow . . . and deep visible marks upon faces and bodies for eyes to see. Who knows how deep . . . snarm harms snarm’s way upon the living spirits of you and me . . . ? Close your eyes . . . look at snarm . . . and . . . please tell me, tell yourself and tell the world of what you see!!!13
Notes Preface 1 Salman Rushdie, Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991 (London: Granta Books, 1992), 9–21. 2 E-mail exchange, April 6, 2018. 3 A title Lowenthal borrowed from L. P. Hartley’s 1953 novel, The Go-Between. 4 Two currencies are used in Cambodia today, the local Khmer riel and the US dollar. The “dollarization” of the Cambodian economy begun under the UNTAC (United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia), 1991–1992. See Tay Nay Intel and Michael Dabadie, “Dollarization in Cambodia” (unpublished MS, 2007). 5 Michelle Vachon and Mech Dara, “Pich Tum Kravel, Actor, Arts Patron, Dies at 71,” The Cambodia Daily , May 18, 2015: https://www.cambodiadaily.com /news/pich-tum-kravel-actor-and-arts-patron-dies-at-71–83811/ (accessed May 23, 2018). 6 “Suppya Nut’s Interview with Pich Tum Kravel” (Khmer Dance Project Videos), https://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/3bf7b040-3451-0131-feef-3c075448cc4b (accessed June 18, 2018). 7 Hyunee Lee, “An Iranian Artist Explores Her American Identity,” https:// www.thecut.com/2017/05/photos-shirin-neshats-dreamers.html (accessed June 18, 2018). 8 “An Encounter with Artist, Shirin Neshat,” https://www.youtube.com/watch ?v=WoFouzeYy0o&t=632s (accessed June 18, 2018). 9 Boreth Ly, “Devastated Vision (s): The Khmer Rouge Scopic Regime in Cambodia,” Art Journal 62, no. 1 (Spring 2003): 66–81; “Of Performance and Persistent Temporality of Trauma: Memory, Art and Visions,” in positions: east asia cultures critique 16, no. 1 (Spring 2008): 109–130; Boreth Ly, Se remémorer le 17 avril 1975: À la recherché des images manquantes,” in Patrick Nardin, Suppya Hélène Nut, and Soko Phay, eds., Cambodge: Cartographie de la mémoire (Paris: L’Asiathèque, 2017), 167–180. Introduction 1 William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambo dia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 21–31. Also see Ben Kiernan, “Roots
130 : Notes to Pages 1–4 of Genocide: New Evidence on the U.S. Bombardment of Cambodia,” Culture and Survival Quarterly 14, no. 3 (Fall 1990), http://www.culturalsurvival.org /ourpublications/csq/article/roots-genocide-new-evidence-us-bombardment -cambodia (accessed May 26, 2014). 2 Huy Vannak, Bou Meng: A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21 (Phnom Penh: DC Camp, 2010), 22. 3 Ben Kiernan, Genocide and Resistance in Southeast Asia: Documentation, Denial, and Justice in Cambodia and East Timor (New York: Transaction Publishers, 2001), 1. See original document quoted in Kiernan’s book: Memorandum of Conversation, “Secretary’s Meeting with Foreign Minister Chatichai of Thailand,” Nov. 26, 1975, declassified July 27, 2004, 8. 4 Pol Pot: A Secret Killer (part 2), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= f ZM7W9i3arw&list=PL7FF96335F0911169 (accessed August 31, 2013). 5 Rithy Panh with Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, trans. John Cullen (New York: Other Press, 2012), 27. 6 The total population of Cambodia before 1975 was 7 million, and the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 million. See David Chandler, Voices From S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), vii. 7 Panh and Bataille, The Elimination, 103. Also see Soko Phay-Vakalis, “Ateliers de la Mémoire/Memory Workshops,” in Pierre Bayard and Soko Phay-Vakalis, eds., Création et postmémoire/Creation and Postmemory (Paris, France: Art absolutment, 2013), 24. 8 “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia” Closing Order, Case No: 002/14–08/-2006 Closing Order, http://genderjurisprudence.org /documents/eccc/ECCC_-_Cases/Case%20001%20(Kaing)/Co-Investigating _ Judges/2008-08-08,_Closing _order_indicting _Kaing _Guek_Eav_alias _Duch.pdf.p. 9 (accessed September 6, 2014). 9 Raphael Lemkin, Lemkin on Genocide, edited and introduced by Steven Leonard Jacobs (New York: Lexington Books, 2012), 40. 10 David P. Chandler, “Seeing Red: Perceptions of Cambodian History in Democratic Kampuchea,” in David P. Chandler and Ben Kiernan, eds., Revolution and Its Aftermath in Kampuchea: Eight Essays, 35 (1983). 11 François Ponchaud, Cambodia Year Zero (New York: Henry Holt, 1978), 2. 12 Seth Mydans, “What Lingers after Decades of Reporting on the Cambodian Genocide,” New York Times, November 30, 2018, https://www.nytimes .com/2018/11/30/reader-center/khmer-rouge-genocide-trial.html. 13 I am aware of Jacques Derrida’s theory of traces as discussed in his book Of Grammatology, but the goal of my project is to articulate a Cambodian understanding of snarm. See Jacques Derrida, Of Grammatology, trans. Gayatri Spivak (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997), xvii.
Notes to Pages 4–10 : 131 14 Judy Ledgerwood, “The Cambodian Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide Crimes: National Narrative,” Museum of Anthropology 21, no. 1 (Spring–Summer 1997): 85. 15 Dean Wickham, “Humanity at Its Worst: Visiting the Choeung Ek Killing Fields and the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.” http://www.theroadtoanywhere.com/the-choeung-ek-killing-fields-and-tuol -sleng-genocide-museum-in-phnom-penh-cambodia (accessed April 2, 2018). 16 I would like to thank San Phalla for his help in clarifying the interpretations and misinterpretations of these “bloody footprints.” 17 “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia” Case 002 Closing Order, http://www.eccc.gov.kh/sites/default/files/documents/courtdoc/D427Eng.pdf (accessed September 1, 2014), 111–113. I would like to thank Terith Chy and Youk Chhang for sharing this document with me. 18 “Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” reported on Equity Weekly TV, https://www .youtube.com/watch?v=agT0Q0ykCMc&index=1202&list=UUxj11DKO9I Esap7LauR4rtA (accessed August 18, 2014). 19 A similar case of a Cambodian woman who survived the genocide but still feared the man who was responsible for murdering her family members was featured in Jan van der Berg’s 2004 film Death of Deacon (DRS film, 2004). 20 Theodor W. Adorno, Prisms, trans. Samuel Weber and Sherry Weber (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1967), 34. 21 Martin Shaw, What Is Genocide? (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2007), 76. Shaw quoted the definition of “auto-genocide” from W. A. Schabas, Genocide in In ternational Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 118. 22 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1973), 362–363. 23 Sharon May, “Interview with Soth Polin,” in Frank Stewart and Sharon May, eds., In the Shadow of Angkor (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004), 20. 24 Penny Edwards, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation: 1860–1945 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007). 25 My broad and inclusive definition of the nation in the Cambodian context responds to Thongchai Winichakul’s call for the need to write about the history of the nation in Southeast Asia from the “interstices,” the marginalized and the in-between spaces. However, the Cambodian nation is still struggling to define and shape its identity in the post–Khmer Rouge genocide moment. See “Writing at the Interstices: Southeast Asian Historians and Post-National Histories in Southeast Asia,” in New Terrain in Southeast Asian History, ed. Abu Talib Ahmed and Tan Liok Ee (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2003), 3–29. 26 Philip Jenner and Saveros Pou, “A Lexicon of Khmer Morphology,” in MonKhmer Studies IX–X, ed. Philip N. Jenner (Honolulu: University Press of Hawai‘i, 1980–1981), 364.
132 : Notes to Pages 11–15 27 Daravuth Ly and Ingrid Muan, Cultures of Independence: Introduction to Cambodian Arts and Culture in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Phnom Penh: Reyum Publishing, 2001). Chapter 1: Broken Body 1 Pol Pot: Secret Killer, part 5 (2008), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= u9RLziKvFpY&list=PL7FF96335F0911169 (accessed August 31, 2013). 2 Rithy Panh with Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, trans. John Cullen (New York: Other Press, 2012), 3. 3 Clifford Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York: Basic Books, 1979), 5. 4 I would like to thank Chhim Sotheara for clarifying that the Khmer word baksbat, when translated into English, means both “broken form” and “broken courage”; e-mail exchange dated July 22, 2014. 5 Lisa Saltzman and Eric Rosenberg, eds., Trauma and Visuality in Modernity (Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006), xi. 6 Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle (London: The Hogarth Press, 1955), 29–35. For an excellent elaboration on Freud’s theory of trauma, see Pheng Cheah, “Crisis of Money,” in The Creolization of Theory, ed. Françoise Lionnet and Shu-mei Shih (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2011), 83–111. 7 Cathy Caruth, Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and Theory (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996), 91. Also see Sabine Eckmann, “Memory, History, and the Real,” in The Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations, ed. Sabine Eckmann (St. Louis, MO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2014), 17–19. 8 See Ruth Leyes, Trauma: A Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000); Cathy Caruth, ed., Trauma: Exploration in Memory (Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995); Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012). 9 Hirsch, Generation of Postmemory, 16. 10 Khatharya Um, “Refractions of Home: Exile, Memory and Diasporic Longing,” in Expressions of Cambodia: The Politics of Tradition, Identity, and Change, ed. Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Tim Winter (New York: Routledge, 2006), 86–100. 11 Gwynyth Marshall Overland, Post-Traumatic Survival: A Study of Cambodian Resilience (Cambridge: Cambridge Scholarly Publishing, 2013). See also an interview with Marshall in the Phnom Penh Post, September 6, 2013, http:// www.phnompenhpost.com/7days/7-questions-gwynyth-marshall-øverland (accessed September 10, 2013).
Notes to Pages 15–20 : 133 12 Hal Foster has defined vision and visuality dialectically thus: “Although vision suggests sight as a physical operation, and visuality sight as a social fact, the two are not opposed as nature to culture”; Hal Foster, “Vision and Visuality,” in Vision and Visuality, ed. Hal Foster (New York: New Press, 1988), ix. These two terms have been critiqued and elaborated upon in Nicholas Mirzoeff, “On Visuality,” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 1 (2006): 53–79. 13 Hirsch, Generation of Postmemory, 1–17. 14 Aihwa Ong, Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, The New America (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003), 108. 15 Quoted in Chhim Sotheara, “Baksbat (Broken Courage): The Development and Validation of the Inventory to Measure Baksbat, A Cambodian Traumabased Cultural Syndrome of Distress,” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 36, no. 4 (2012): 644. Also see Khatharya Um, From the Land of Shadows: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Cambodian Diaspora (New York: New York University Press, 2015), 66. 16 Ibid., 644. 17 Ibid., 643. 18 Philip N. Jenner and Saveros Pou, eds., A Lexicon of Khmer Morphology, MonKhmer Studies IX–X (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1980–1981), 364. 19 Gay Becker, Yewoubdar Beyene, and Pauline Ken, “Memory, Trauma, Embodied Distress: The Management of Disruption in the Stories of Cambodians in Exile,” Ethnos 28, no. 1 (2000): 322. 20 Annie Stopford, “Turning a River of Blood into a River of Reconciliation: Cambodia’s Catastrophe,” Documentation Center of Cambodia Magazine: Searching for the Truth, October 2009, 1. 21 Kok Thlok Sleeping Art, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z0EDlNg97QM (accessed May 13, 2014). My translation. 22 Rithy Panh, “Cambodia: A Wound That Will Not Heal,” The Unesco Courier, December 1999, 30. See also Denis Hruby, “Cambodia Suffers from an Appalling Mental Health Crisis,” Global Post, June 17, 2014, http://www .g lobalpost . com/dispatch/news/regions/asia-pacific/cambodia/140616 /cambodia-suffers-appalling-mental-health-crisis (accessed June 29, 2014). 23 Didier Fassin and Richard Rechtman, The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood, trans. Rachel Gomme (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009), 20. 24 Sarith Peou, Corpse Watching, with a foreword by Ed Bob Lee (Honolulu: Tinfish Press, 2008), 39. 25 State of Minnesota vs. Sarith Peou, C3-97-289 (1998), http://law.justia.com /cases/minnesota/supreme-court/1998/c397289.html (accessed May 20, 2014). 26 Peou, Corpse Watching, 16–17. 27 Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain (New York: Oxford Press, 1985), 3. 28 Marcina Zaccaria, “Cambodian Filmmaker Discusses His Oscar-Nominated
134 : Notes to Pages 20–27 Film, ‘The Missing Picture,’ ” February 14, 2014, http://thecelebritycafe.com /f eature /2014/02/cambodian-filmmaker-rithy-panh-discusses-his-oscar -nominated-film-missing-picture (accessed April 28, 2014). 29 Becker, Beyene, and Ken, “Memory, Trauma, Embodied Distress,” 320. 30 Amy Lee Sanford, biography, http://amyleesanford.com/about/bio/ (accessed May 20, 2014). 31 E-mail exchange with the artist, April 12, 2012. 32 Interview with the artist in Phnom Penh, December 27, 2012. 33 Ibid. 34 E-mail exchange with the artist, May 28, 2014. 35 See website for Java Arts: http://javaarts.org/2012/03/full-circle-6-day -performance-by-amy-lee-sanford-starting-march-13-2012/ (accessed June 23, 2014). 36 Seng Dara is an expert on Khmer popular songs from the 1960s and 1970s. He appears regularly on Cambodian television to share his knowledge. See Dara Seng’s report on Khmer oldies, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= OnKBRs47gLQ (accessed June 20, 2014). 37 Translation mine. 38 Claire Knox, “Art Exhibition Seeks to Start a Conversation,” Phnom Penh Post, January 30, 2013, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/2013013061064 / Lifestyle /pieces-of-the-past-an-artist-seeks-to-start-a-conversation.html (accessed January 30, 2013). 39 Choulean Ang, Brah Ling (Phnom Penh: Reyum Publishing, 2004), 2. 40 Ibid., 31. 41 Hirsch, Generation of Postmemory, 5. 42 E-mail exchange with the artist, April 12, 2013. 43 I would like to thank David Chandler for pointing out that these rockets were launched by the Khmer Rouge and not by the Americans. 44 See website for Laconia Gallery: http://laconiagallery.com/2006/05/05/calling -cambodia-amy-sanford-bill-moore/ (accessed June 29, 2014). 45 Ibid. 46 E-mail exchange with the artist, May 28, 2014. 47 Ibid. 48 Ibid. 49 Rithy Panh avec Christophe Bataille, L’Élimination (Paris: Éditions Grasset and Fasquelle, 2012). Note: the book was translated into English and printed as The Elimination. 50 Sylvie Blum-Reid, East-West Encounters: Franco-Asian Cinema and Literature (London: Wallflower Press, 2000), 106–108. 51 See the website for Bophana: http://bophana.org/en/ (accessed July 2, 2014). 52 “Robert Redford, Randy Barbato, and Rithy Panh to be Honored at the 30th IDA Award.” http://www.documentary.org/news/robert-redford
Notes to Pages 27–35 : 135 -fenton- bailey- and-randy-barbato-and-rithy-panh-be-honored-30th-ida -awards (accessed October 11, 2014). 53 “Cambodian Director Rithy Panh to Receive the FIFF 36 Award,” http:// en.ifilmtv.com/News/Content/9536/36th-FIff-to-honor-Cambodian -director (accessed April 12, 2018). 54 Rithy Panh, The Missing Picture (2014). 55 Panh, “Cambodia: A Wound That Will Not Heal,” 30. 56 Roland Neveu, The Fall of Phnom Penh: 17 April 1975 (Bangkok: Asia Horizons Books, 2007), 13. 57 Panh with Bataille, The Elimination, 20. 58 The version that I watched and analyzed in this chapter is in English, and the voice-over said, “I am thirteen.” My analysis of the difference in tense is based on the English-language version and not the French rendition. 59 Poppy McPherson and Vandy Muong, “Sculpting an Oscar Nominee,” in The Phnom Penh Post, March 3, 2104, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/lifestyle /sculpting-oscar-nominee (accessed July 1, 2014). 60 The Apsara dance will be discussed at length in chapter 5. 61 Ibid. 62 I will discuss the role of arts and films played in serving the Khmer Rouge revolution in chapter 3. 63 Panh, The Missing Picture. 64 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt and trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 233–234. 65 Panh, The Missing Picture. 66 Ibid. 67 Sigmund Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia” (New York: Standard Edition, 1917), 243. 68 Ibid., 245. 69 Tammy Clewell, “Mourning beyond Melancholia: Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Loss,” Journal of the American Psychoanalysis Association 52, no. 1 (2014): 44. 70 Freud, “Mourning and Melancholia,” 243. 71 Ibid. 72 Ibid. 73 Sigmund Freud, “Thoughts for the Times on War and Death” (1915), http:// www.panarchy.org/freud/war.1915.html (accessed September 3, 2014). 74 May Titthara, “Relatives Pray at Khmer Rouge Mass Grave,” Phnom Penh Post, August 8, 2012, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/relatives -pray-khmer-rouge-mass-grave (accessed July 7, 2014). 75 “Ex-King Urges Cremation of Khmer Rouge Victims,” New York Times, July 20, 2006, http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/20/world/asia/20cambodia.html?_r =0 (accessed July 7, 2014).
136 : Notes to Pages 35–39 76 The significance of the krama is discussed at length in chapter 4. 77 Soko Phay-Vakalis, “Ateliers de la Memoire/Memory Workshops,” in Création et postmémoire/Creation and Postmemory, ed. Pierre Bayard and Soko PhayVakalis (Paris: Art absolument, 2013), 38. 78 Ibid., 24. 79 Panh, “Cambodia: A Wound That Will Not Heal,” 31. Chapter 2: Scarred Resilience 1 Pol Pot, Secret Killer (part 3 of 5), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= u9RLziKvFpY&list=PL7FF96335F0911169 (accessed August 31, 2013). 2 Rattana Vandy, Bomb Pond (video installation, 2012). 3 Chanthou Oeur, “Snarm: Artist Statement,” http://bccnh.org /2006Snarmscar .html (accessed May 10, 2014). 4 Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, “Bombs over Cambodia,” The Walrus, October 2006, 62–69. 5 Pol Pot: Secret Killer (A&E Award Winning Series, 2006, DVD) (part 5), http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u9RLziKvFpY&list=PL7FF96335F0911169 (accessed August 31, 2013). 6 David P. Chandler, Voices from S-21 (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), vii. Also see Cathy M. Schlund-Vials, Cambodian American Memory Work (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013). 7 Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, “Bombs over Cambodia,” The Walrus, October 2006, 62–69. 8 Karen J. Coates and Jerry Redfern, Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos (San Francisco, CA: Things Asian Press, 2013). 9 American Bombing in Laos, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/03 /laos-vietnam-war-us-bombing-uxo (accessed May 30, 2014). 10 William Shawcross, Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambo dia (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 21–31. See also a documentary film on “Cluster Ammunition Campaign” extracted from the Equity Weekly TV show no. 66 (broadcast on November 30, 2008), produced by UNDP and TVK with support from SIDA, AusAid, Canadian International Development Agency, and Irish Aid as part of the SDEP (Strengthening Democracy and Electoral Processes in Cambodia) project of UNDP CAMBODIA, https:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=q9mF38RZydE&list=PL7F6A3037CBAE6221 (accessed August 16, 2014). 11 Soenthrith Saing and Zsomber Peter, “Villagers Find Chemicals Dropped by U.S. in 1970s,” The Phnom Penh Post, July 2, 2014, http://www.cambodiadaily .com/news/villagers-find-chemicals-dropped-by-us-in-1970s-62934/ (accessed July 2, 2014).
Notes to Pages 39–44 : 137 12 Philip Jenner and Saveros Pou, “A Lexicon of Khmer Morphology,” in MonKhmer Studies, 9–10, edited by Philip N. Jenner (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1980–1981), 364. 13 See Vandy Rattana’s website: http://vandyrattana.com/cv/ (accessed July 9, 2014). 14 “Vandy Rattana’s Bomb Ponds Photographs and Video, http://www.guggenheim .org/video/vandy-rattanas-bomb-ponds-photographs-and-video (accessed July 10, 2014). 15 Vuth Lyno, “Cambodian Photographers Document War and Violence: Vandy Rattana, Khvay Samnang, and Sovan Philong,” Tap 3, no. 1 (2014), http://quod .lib.umich.edu/t/tap/7977573.0003.108/--cambodian-photographers -document-war-and-violence-vandy?rgn=main;view=fulltext (accessed August 10, 2014). 16 See also Sabine Eckmann, “Memory, History, and the Real,” in Sabine Eckmann, ed., The Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations (St. Louis, MO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2014), 19–22; also Rakhee Balaram, “ Open Wounds: Vandy Rattana,” in The Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations, ed. Sabine Eckman (St. Louis, MO : Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2014), 94–98. 17 Barbie Zelizer, About to Die: How News Images Move the Public (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 218–243. 18 Richard Woodward et al., An-My Le: Small Wars (New York: Aperture, 2005). 19 I would like to thank Vandy Rattana for sharing his video installation of Bomb Ponds with me and for his generosity and patience in answering my questions in our e-mail exchanges. 20 Rattana Vandy, Bomb Ponds (video installation, 2009). 21 Ibid. 22 Ibid. 23 Deirdre Boyle, “Trauma, Memory, Documentary: Re-enactment in Two Films by Rithy Panh (Cambodia) and Garin Nugroho (Indonesia),” in Documentary Testimonies: Global Archives of Suffering, ed. Bhaskar Sarkar and Janet Walker (New York: Routledge, 2010), 160. 24 Ibid. 25 Rithy Panh with Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, trans. John Cullen (New York: Other Press, 2012), 72. 26 Eckmann, Aftermath of Trauma, 19–22. 27 I would like to thank Vandy Rattana for sending me stills of this particular scene of his video installation. 28 Rattana Vandy, Bomb Ponds (video installation, 2009). 29 Ibid.
138 : Notes to Pages 44–49 30 Elaine Scarry, The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World (New York: Oxford University Press, 1985), 3. 31 Julia Kristeva,”The Pain of Sorrow in the Modern World: The Works of Marguerite Duras,” Publications of the Modern Language Association 102, no. 2 (March 1987), 140. 32 Ibid. 33 Ibid. 34 “Interview: Gridthiya Caweewong and Vandy Rattana,” in Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, Contemporary Art and Urban Change in Cambodia, ed. Erin Gleeson (Berlin: ifa-Galerie Berlin and Institut fur Austlandsbeziehungen, 2012), 110. 35 Poch Reasy interview with Seckon Leang on Voice of America Khmer, http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v=qObf3hlXhVA (accessed September 4, 2013). 36 See Leang Seckon’s Curriculum Vitae published on the Rossi & Rossi Gallery website under Leang Seckon, http://www.rossirossi.com/contemporary/artists /leang.seckon/cv (accessed August 4, 2014). 37 Bradford Edwards, “Flowers and Treachery,” Asian Art News (September/ October 2010), 62–63. 38 My interview with the artist dated December 27, 2013. 39 B. Edwards, “Flowers and Treachery,” 64. 40 See Rossi & Rossi Gallery website: http://www.rossirossi.com (accessed September 1, 2014). 41 The translation of the title is mine. 42 E-mail exchange with Sokchanlina Lim dated July 28, 2014. 43 B. Edwards, “Flowers and Treachery,” 65. 44 E-mail exchange with Sokchanglina Lim dated July 28, 2014. 45 I would like to thank Leang Seckon for sharing his works and stories with me. In addition, my gratitude goes to Fleur Bourgeois Smith for the time she spent gathering copies of Leang’s works and video installations for me. 46 My translation. 47 Leang Seckon, Heavy Skirt (video installation, 2009). 48 Ibid. 49 I would like to thank Sokchanlina Lim for verifying the name of his greataunt. E-mail exchange dated July 22, 2014. 50 B. Edwards, “Flowers and Treachery,” 63. 51 Anne Elizabeth Moore, “Flower Come from My Mouth,” in Tara Shaw- Jackson, ed., Heavy Skirt: Leang Seckon (London: Rossi & Rossi Gallery, 2010), 9–16. 52 Seckon Leang, “Painting Descriptions” (unpublished, 2019). 53 The political implications of the serpent as embodiment of the Khmer kingdom will be discussed in chapter 5.
Notes to Pages 49–56 : 139 54 Roland Neveu, The Fall of Phnom Penh: 17 April 1975 (Bangkok: Asian Horizons Books, 2007), 27. 55 Ibid. 56 Ibid. 57 Alejo Carpentier, “The Baroque and the Marvelous,” in Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, ed. Lois Parkinson Zamora and B. Wendy Farris and trans. Tanya Huntington and Lois Parkinson Zamora (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995), 101. 58 Khing Hoc Dy, Anthologie de la littérature Khmère du XIXème siècle (Phnom Penh: Edition Angkor, 2003), 118–130. See also Khing Hoc Dy, “Les romans classiques Khmer et les jatakas extra-canoniques,” in Péninsule, no. 53 (2006), 5–26. 59 I would like to thank David Chandler for pointing out it is unlikely that a B-52 dropped these bombs on such a small village. It might have been a smaller plane. 60 Reasey Poch’s “Interview with Leang Seckon” on Voice of American Khmer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qObf3hlXhVA (accessed August 16, 2014). 61 Ibid. 62 Therese Mulligan, Bernie Boston: American Photojournalist (New York: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2006). 63 Ibid. 64 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 233–234. 65 B. Edwards, “Flowers and Treachery,” 65. 66 Telephone interview the artist dated July 30, 2014. 67 See Khmer Art Gallery website: http://www.khmerartgallery.com/index2 .html (accessed August 31, 2013). 68 Telephone interview with the artist dated July 30, 2014. I would like to thank Chanthou Oeur for sharing his work with me. 69 Diane Bair and Pamela Wright, “Sculptures Attract Hikers in Brookline, N.H.,” The Boston Globe (April 12, 2014), http://www.bostonglobe.com /l ifestyle/travel/2014/04/12/art-woods-andres-institute-art-sculpture-park -brookline/IgzrQ3Kz9mFiOupYN0cChK/story.html (accessed July 9, 2014). 70 See Andres Institute of Art: http://andresinstitute.org/?page_id=137 (accessed July 9, 2014). 71 Chanthou Oeur, “Artist Statement,” http://www.andresinstitute.org /2006Snarmscar. html (accessed August 9, 2013). 72 Telephone interview with the artist dated July 30, 2014. 73 Khatharya Um, “Scars of War: Educational Issues and Challenges for Cambodian-American Students,” in Asian-American Education: Prospects
140 : Notes to Pages 56–60 and Challenges, ed. Clara C. Park et al. (Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999), 263–284. 74 Toni Quest’s Interview with Chanthou Oeur” as part of the Continuing with the Dream Interview series No. 10–Chanthou Oeur, https://www.youtube .com/watch?v=U6_DVx59Wiw (accessed July 22, 2014). 75 Ben Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge Regime, 1975–1979 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996), 435–436. 76 William Shawcross, The Quality of Mercy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984), 328–329. 77 Ibid., 329. 78 Carol A. Mortland, “ Khmer Buddhists in the United States: Ultimate Questions,” in Cambodian Culture since 1975: Homeland and Exile, ed. May M. Ebihara, Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 82. 79 I would like to thank Mr. Supote Prasertsri for his help in deciphering the possible meanings embedded in the phrase “only garlic remains” in the Cambodian cultural context. In his book, Ben Kiernan has translated the Khmer word ktim, a generic term for scallions (“green onion” in American English and “spring onion” in British English) as “garlic”; but I think that, in this his torical and cultural context, ktim refers to green onion (e-mail exchange with Supote Prasertsri dated September 9, 2013). See Kiernan, The Pol Pot Regime, 435–436. 80 Karen J. Coates and Jerry Redfern, Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of the Ameri can Bombs in Laos (New York: Things Asian Press/Global Directions, 2013). 81 Marianne Hirsch, The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust (New York: Columbia University Press, 2012), 5. 82 Gridthiya Gaweewong, “Vandy Rattana: Interview,” in Connect: Phnom Penh Rescue Archaeology: Contemporary Art and Urban Change in Cambodia, ed. Barbara Barsch, Erin Gleeson, and Ev Fischer (Berlin: The Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations, 2013), 109–110. Chapter 3: Portraits of a Dictator 1 Rithy Panh, The Missing Picture (DVD, 2014). 2 Henri Locard, Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar (Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2004), 210. 3 François Ponchaud, Cambodia Year Zero (New York: Holt Rinehart and Winston, 1977), 2. 4 Evan Young Quaker, “Flowers in the Forest: A Talk with Chheng Phong, Minister of Culture and Information,” Culture and Survival Quarterly 14, no. 3 (1990),
Notes to Pages 62–65 : 141 http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival - quarterly /cambodia/flowers-forest-talk-chheng-phon-minister-informati (accessed May 26, 2014). 5 Barbie Zelizer, About to Die: How News Images Move the Public (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 144. 6 “Ghost City of Phnom Penh, 1978.” http://www.youtube.com/watch ?v = jpZNQzYK6Ns (accessed July 11, 2014). See also Bennett Murray and Mao Monkolransey, “Film Shot in 1980s Phnom Penh Gives Glimpse of City under KR.” https://www.phnompenhpost.com/post-weekend/film-shot-1980s-phnom -penh-gives-glimpse-city-under-kr (accessed April 13, 2018). 7 Elizabeth Becker, When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution (New York: Public Affairs, 1998), 399–431. 8 Elizabeth Becker, “Pol Pot Remembered,” BBC News, April 20, 1998, http:// news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/programmes/from_our_own_correspondent/81048.stm (accessed July 11, 14). See also Michel Igout, Phnom Penh Then and Now (Bangkok: White Lotus Co., 1993); and Andrew Nachemson, “Former Khmer Rouge Supporter Gives Talk to Students,” Phnom Penh Post, September 13, 2016, https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/former-khmer-rouge-supporter -gives-talk-students. (accessed April 13, 2018). 9 Raymond Williams, The Country and the City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975). 10 Panh Rithy with Christophe Bataille, “Cambodia: A Wound That Will Not Heal,” The Unesco Courier 52, no. 12 (1999): 262. 11 Panh, The Missing Picture. 12 Dacil Keo and Nean Yin, “Fact Sheet on ‘S-21’ Tuol Sleng Prison,” in Searching for the Truth Magazine, December 2010, 1. 13 Lindsay French, “Exhibiting Terror,” in Truth Claims: Representation and Human Rights, ed. Mark Philip Bradley and Patrice Petro (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2002), 131–155. 14 The exact names and numbers of photographers working at S-21 remained debatable. Nhem En claims that he is the sole photographer who took those mug shots, but another photographer named Noem Oem testified at the Tribunal Court in 2016, claiming that he was the senior photographer who trained Nhem and other young photographers in the art and science of photography at S-21. In brief, further research is needed in order for the facts to be established. See Sonia Kohlbacher, “Prison Photographer’s Testimony Questioned,” The Cambodia Daily, September 16, 2016, https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news /prison-photographers-testimony-questioned-118062/ (accessed April 13, 2018). 15 David Chandler, Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); and Michelle Caswell, Ar chiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, the Photographic Record in Cambo dia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014).
142 : Notes to Pages 65–69 16 Steven Okazaki, The Conscience of Nhem En (Farallon Films, 2008). 17 Chandler, Voices from S-21, 27–28. 18 Nash Jenkins, “Nearly 1,500 Khmer Rouge Prisoners Photographs Donated to Document Center,” Voice of America, August 23, 2012, 1–2. 19 Panh and Bataille, “Cambodia,” 262. 20 Locard, Pol Pot’s Little Red Book, 210. 21 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Walter Benjamin: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 225–226. 22 Ben Kiernan, How Pol Pot Came to Power (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), 26–27. 23 David P. Chandler, Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot (San Francisco, CA: Westview Press, 1992), 183. 24 Will Jackson, “ ‘PM First Held Power with Pol Pot,’ ” Phnom Penh Post, August 23, 2014, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/post-weekend/‘pm-office -first-held-power-pol-pot’ (accessed August 24, 2014). 25 Michelle Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, the Photo graphic Record in Cambodia (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014), 8. Also see Nate Thayer, “Pol Pot Tells China That Killings Underway, to Continue,” http://www.nate-thayer.com/pot-pot-briefs-china-in-19977-that -khmer-rouge-killings-underway/ (accessed August 22, 2014). 26 Seth Mydan, “Death of Pol Pot,” New York Times, April 17, 1998, http://www .nytimes.com/1998/04/17/world/death-pol-pot-pol-pot-brutal-dictator-who -forced-cambodians-killing-fields-dies.html (accessed August 28, 2014). 27 Penny Edwards, Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation. 1860–1945 (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007), 1–3. 28 Keo and Yin, “Fact Sheet on ‘S-21,’ ” 1–8. 29 “Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia” Case 002 Closing Order, http://www.eccc.gov.kh/sites/default/files/documents/courtdoc/D427Eng.pdf (accessed September 1, 2014), 111–113. I would like to thank Terith Chy and Youk Chhan for sharing this document with me. “Khmer Rouge Tribunal,” reported on Equity Weekly TV, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=agT0Q0ykCMc& index=1202&list=UUxj11DKO9IEsap7LauR4rtA. 30 Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable, 28. 31 Keo and Yin, “Fact Sheet on ‘S-21,’ ” 2. 32 Bou Meng, Bou Meng: A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21, trans. Huy Vannak and foreword by Seth Mydans (Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2010), 51. See also Vann Nath, Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 (Bangkok: White Lotus, 1998), 52. 33 “Celebrated Sculpture, Im Chan,” Phnom Penh Post, February 18, 2000, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/celebrated-sculptor-im-chan (accessed August 24, 2014).
Notes to Pages 69–78 : 143 34 Peter Maguire, Facing Death in Cambodia (New York: Columbia University Press, 2005), 26–29. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid. 37 Ibid. 38 Ibid., 27. 39 Ibid. 40 I would like to thank San Phalla for supplying me with a photograph he took of this wooden carving of Pol Pot. 41 My thanks go to San Phalla for his help in providing me with this information in an e-mail exchange dated September 28, 2014. 42 Thanks to San Phalla for his help with the research on the mold for Pol Pot’s portraits and for supplying me with this photograph. 43 Michael Baxandall, Pattern of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pic tures (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985), 1. 44 Bou, Bou Meng, 22. 45 Ibid., 44. 46 “They Were Really Nice Guys: Louis L. Meisel Talks to David Lubin about Photorealism’s Beginnings,” in Picturing America, ed. Valerie Hillings and David Lubin (New York: Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, 2009), 1. 47 Louis K. Meisel, Photorealism (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980), 12. 48 Nate Thayer, “Pol Pot Tells China in 1977 That Killings Underway, to Continue, http://www.nate-thayer.com/pot-pot-briefs-china-in-19977-that-khmer -rouge-killings-underway/ (accessed August 25, 2014). 49 Bou, Bou Meng, 48. 50 “Khmer Rouge History,” in Tribunal Monitor (Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia), http://www.cambodiatribunal.org/history/cambodian -history/khmer-rouge-history/ (accessed August 29, 2014). 51 Ibid. 52 Thomas Miller and May Titthara, “Tuol Sleng Survivor Vann Nath Dies at 66,” Phnom Penh Post, September 6, 2011, http://www.phnompenhpost.com /national/tuol-sleng-survivor-vann-nath-dies-66 (accessed August 28, 2014). 53 Vann, Cambodian Prison Portrait, 24. 54 Ibid., 49. 55 Ibid., 58. 56 Ibid., 59. 57 Rithy Panh, S-21, The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (First Run Features, 2005). 58 Panh, The Missing Picture, 70. 59 Caswell, Archiving the Unspeakable, 3. See also Chandler, Voices from S-21. 60 Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” in Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, ed. Hannah Arendt, ed. and trans. Harry Zohn (New York: Schocken Books, 1968), 241–242.
144 : Notes to Pages 78–84 61 Chandler, Voices from S-21, 40. 62 Vann, Cambodian Prison Portrait, 82. Chapter 4: Of Krama and Khmer Identity 1 Suppya Nut, “Interview with Pech Tum Kravel” (2012) as part Khmer Dance Project, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/tools/video/dance/2750490989001 #29:40 (accessed October 30, 2013); Henry Locard, Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar (Chiang Mai: Silkworms Books, 2004), 283. 2 Colin Long and Keir Reeves, “ ‘Dig Hole and Bury the Past in It’: Reconciliation and the Heritage of Genocide in Cambodia,” in William Logan and Keir Reeves, eds., Places of Pain and Shame: Dealing with “Difficult Heritage” (New York: Routledge, 2013), 68–81. 3 See Cambodian Coca Cola Concert, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= ODQM2IcwA5g (accessed June 20, 2014). 4 Siegfried Kracauer, The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays, trans., ed., and intro. by Thomas Y. Levin (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995), 75. 5 As similar cotton cloths are found in Malaysia, it is possible that the Thai phrase might derive from the Malay language. I would like to thank Michel Antelme for sharing this hypothesis with me in an e-mail exchange dated September 13, 2012. 6 Ta-Kuan Chou, The Customs of Cambodia, translated from Paul Pelliot’s French version of Chou’s Chinese original by J. Gilman d’Arcy Paul (Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1993), 7. 7 My translation. 8 It is quite common in Cambodia for villagers to commit suicide by hanging themselves with a krama. 9 See Prom Manh, “Khmer Scarf,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= jXViEIn4B6o (accessed June 11, 2014). 10 I would like to thank Gillian Green for sharing some of her unpublished writing on the Khmer krama with me in one of our e-mail exchanges dated May 21, 2012. Also see François Grunewald, “The Krama: A Cambodian Patchwork,” Cultural Survival Quarterly, 14, no. 3 (Fall 1990), http://www .c ulturalsurvival.org/ourpublications/csq/article/the-krama-a-cambodian -patchwork (accessed May 11, 2014). 11 Rithy Panh with Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, trans. John Cullen (New York: Other Press, 2012), 70. 12 Locard, Pol Pot’s Little Red Book, 283. 13 Having said that, I have noticed in recent years that members of the royal families have started wearing the checkered cotton krama when they participate in
Notes to Pages 85–91 : 145 Cambodian national events abroad. For example, Prince Sisowath Tesso wore differently colored cotton krama when he represented the Royal Ballet du Cambodge tour in France in May 2018. 14 Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell, directed by Rithy Panh (First Run Features, 2013 DVD). 15 Chinda Lors, Nhek Dim (Phnom Penh: Art Publishers, 2001), ix–x. 16 I attended a screening of Chhay Bora’s film Lost Love at the University of California, Berkeley, on October 3, 2012. Unfortunately, it has yet to be released on DVD. See trailer https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CLpa0CMgPkI (accessed June 22, 2014). 17 Taylor Owen and Ben Kiernan, “Bombs over Cambodia,” The Walrus, October 2006, 62–69. 18 See Palm Sugar Khmer, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ecYghq4kN0 (accessed May 29, 2014). 19 Lors, Nhek Dim, ix–x. 20 The owner is a Cambodian-Australian named Kethana Dunnet. She is married to an Australian man and lived in Australia for years before she decided to return to her homeland to open up a restaurant. 21 “Khmer Star Interview” Kauv Sotheary, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v= FYEAVU3PZjE (accessed August 28, 2013). 22 The Sleuk Rith Institute website: http://www.cambodiasri.org (accessed May 29, 2014). In my e-mail exchange with Youk Chhang dated February 19, 2014, he shared with me that another layer of meaning embedded in Sleuk Rith is “the power of leaf equal education.” 23 Interview with You Muoy at her home in Phnom Penh on December 12, 2010. 24 Carol A. Mortland, “Khmer Buddhists in the United States: Ultimate Questions,” in May M. Ebihara, Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, eds., Cambodian Culture since 1975: Homeland and Exile (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994), 82. 25 Interview with the artist at his studio in Phnom Penh on December 26, 2014. 26 Pierrette Van Cleve, You Khin, “Exhibition Statement” (2010). 27 Andrew Mertha, Brothers in Arms: Chinese Aids to the Khmer Rouge, 1975– 1979. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014. 28 E-mail exchanges with the artist dated October 10, 2010. 29 Marie Alexandre Martin, Cambodia: A Shattered Society, trans. Mark W. Mcleod (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994), 45–48. 30 My interview with Le Huy Hoang in Hanoi on December 20, 2010. 31 Nguyen Manh Hung, “Interview with Le Huy Hoang at Nha San Studio, Hanoi.” Documentary film, 1999. 32 Kevin Doyle, “Vietnam’s Forgotten Cambodia War,” BCC News Asia, September 13, 2014, http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-29106034 (accessed September 13, 2014).
146 : Notes to Pages 91–96 33 Kiem Van Tim, “Three Songs of Bopha Xorigia Le Huy Hoang,” Hanoi Grape vine (March 12, 2014), http://hanoigrapevine.com/2014/03/kvt-three-songs -bopha-xorigia-le-huy-hoang/#.U5YUzhZECfR (accessed April 9, 2014). 34 Nguyen Manh Hung, “Interview with Le Huy Hoang at Nha San Studio, Hanoi.” Documentary film, 1999. I would like to thank Nguyen Manh Hung for sharing a copy of this film with me. 35 Ibid. 36 Ibid. 37 Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (New York: Grove Press, 1967), 111. 38 Nguyen Manh Hung, “Interview with Hoang Le Huy Bopha Xorigia” (documentary video, Hanoi, 2009), http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xf70bl_ le -huy-hoang-bopha-xorigia_creation (accessed November 23, 2010). 39 Nguyen Trinh Thi, Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over (documentary film distributed by Doc Lab, Hanoi, 2010). I would like to thank Trinh Thi Nguyen for sharing her film with me. 40 Kiem Van Tim, “Three Songs of Bopha Xorigia Le Huy Hoang, Part 2: Rain,” http://hanoigrapevine.com/2014/03/kvt-three-songs-bopha-xorigia-le-huy -hoang-part-2/#.U5gsvhZECfR (accessed June 11, 2014). 41 I would like to thank Nguyen Trinh Thi and Nguyen Manh Hung for informing me of the death of Le Huy Hoang (Bopha Xorigia). 42 Khatharya Um, “Refractions of Home: Exile, Memory, and Diasporic Long ing,” in Expressions of Cambodia: The Politics of Tradition, Identity and Change, ed. Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Tim Winter (New York: Routledge, 2006), 86–100. 43 Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso, 1983), 2. See also “Definitions of Nationalism and Identity in the World and in Asia: Lectures by Benedict Anderson,” Reader 6 (Siem Reap, Cambodia: Center for Khmer Studies, 2008). 44 Anderson subsequently began to write about film and images. See his writings The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand (New York: Seagull Books, 2012), and “The Strange Story of a Strange Beast: Receptions in Thailand of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Sat pralaat,” in Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia, ed. May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay (Ithaca, NY: SEAP, 2012), 149–164. 45 https://www.facebook.com/KRAMANation (accessed May 11, 2014). 46 Annuska Derks, Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Life and Work in Urban Cambodia (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008). 47 See “Chea Vichea: The Shooting and Its Aftermath,” Phnom Penh Post, January 30, 2004, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/chea-vichea -shooting -and-its-aftermath (accessed June 11, 2014). Bradley Cox, Who Killed Chea Vichea? (documentary film, 2010). The Cambodian government announced that Cox’s film is banned in the Kingdom of Cambodia, http://doc-video
Notes to Pages 96–101 : 147 .cambodia.org/2011/09/who-killed-chea-vichea-in-khmer.html (accessed June 9, 2014). 48 Navin Muol, “Why Cambodia Needs Freedom of Expression,” Global Voices, http://blogs.ajws.org/blog/2012/01/18/why-cambodia-needs-freedom-of -expression/ (accessed August 28, 2013). 49 Zoe Daniel’s interview with Dr. Pung Chhiv Kek on Foreign Correspon dent, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xa-Mzz8OAcI (accessed June 22, 2014). 50 Chhay Channyda, “Villagers Petition via Krama,” Phnom Penh Post, December 21, 2011, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/villagers-petition -krama (accessed June 6, 2014). 51 Martin Ennals, Portrait of Luon Sovath, http://vimeo.com/50273835 (accessed April 12, 2014). 52 I would like to thank Lina Pha for sharing his photographs of the protest with me. 53 See link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/asia-pacific/3505915.stm (accessed May 16, 2010). 54 See Amam Café and Spa website: http://www.amam-cambodia.com (accessed June 22, 2014). 55 “Pop Star Moo-Ing Protégé” (April 21, 2008), http://www.expat-advisory .com/articles/southeast-asia/cambodia/pop-stars-moo-ing-prot-g?quicktabs_1 =0 (accessed June 11, 2014). 56 Very few scholarly writings exist on the gay bathhouse culture of Cambodia, although there is some literature on the gay bathhouses in Thailand. See Nikos Dacanay, “Encounters in the Sauna: Exploring Gay Identity and Power Structures in Gay Places in Bangkok,” in Queer Bangkok: Twenty-First Century Markets, Media and Rights, ed. Peter A. Jackson (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011), 99–117. See also Teodoro Ambrosio P. Catalla, Kha Sovanara, and Gerard van Mourik, Out of the Shadows: Male to Male Sexual Behavior in Cambodia (Phnom Penh: Khana, 2003). 57 See website “The Rainbow Krama”: http://sogi.sithi.org/temp.php?url= krama.php& (accessed June 11, 2014). 58 “Constitution of the Kingdom of Cambodia,” Phnom Penh Post, October 8, 1993, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/constitution-kingdom-cambodia (accessed June 22, 2014). 59 “Cambodian Sex Workers Gather at Buddhist Temple to Protest against Crackdown” (June 16, 2008), http://ki-media.blogspot.com/2008/06 /cambodian-sex-workers-gather-at.html (accessed June 29, 2014). 60 Roth Meas, “Pride Closes with a Buddhist Blessing,” Phnom Penh Post, May 22, 2012, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/lifestyle/pride-closes-buddhist -blessing (accessed June 29, 2014). 61 Khouth Sophak Chakrya, “Krama Wins a Guinness Record for Longest
148 : Notes to Pages 102–106 Scarf,” Phnom Penh Post, July 4, 2018, https://www.phnompenhpost.com /national/krama-wins-guinness-record-longest-scarf (accessed July 4, 2018). 62 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in Nicholas Mirzoeff, ed., Diasporas and Visual Culture: Representing Africans and Jews (New York: Routledge, 1999), 21. Chapter 5: Performing Khmer Cultural Identity 1 Stuart Hall, Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996), 613. 2 Daravuth Ly and Ingrid Muan, Cultures of Independence: Introduction to Cambodian Arts and Culture in the 1950’s and 1960’s (Phnom Penh: Reyum Publishing, 2001). 3 The Khmer word nokor means “kingdom,” and kok, “island.” 4 Ian Mabbett and David Chandler, The Khmers (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995). 5 Rüdiger Gaudes, “Kaundinya, Preah Thaong, and the ‘Nagi Soma’: Some Aspects of a Cambodia Legend,” Asian Folklore Studies 52, no. 2 (1993): 333– 358. See also Choulean Ang, “In the Beginning Was the Bayon,” in Bayon: New Perspectives, ed. Joyce Clark (Bangkok: River Books, 2007), 364–377. Wooden pillars made of thlok trees were found during an archaeological excavation at a palace constructed under King Rejendravarman (r. 944–967) at Angkor. It is possible that thlok tree pillars might be a ritual and architectural reference to this founding myth of Kok Thlok. See Pierre Baptiste and Thierry Zephir, eds., Angkor: Naissance d’un mythe (Paris: Le Musée Guimet, 2013), 218. 6 David Snellgrove, Angkor—Before and After: A Cultural History of the Khmers (New York: Weatherhill, 2004), 61–62. 7 See K. 286, George Coedès, Inscriptions du Cambodge (Paris: Ecole française d’Extrême-Orient, 1952), 4:95–96. Also quoted in Toni Samantha Phim and Ashley Thompson, Dance in Cambodia (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1. 8 Ian Mabbett and David Chandler, The Khmers (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995), 7–8 and 70–71. 9 Chou Ta-Kuan, The Customs of Cambodia, trans. from the French version by Paul Pelliot of Chou’s Chinese original by J. Gilman d’Arcy Paul (Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1993), 5. 10 Albert le Bonheur, Of Gods, Kings, and Men: Bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat and Bayon (London: Serindia Publications, 1995), 18–19. 11 Eleanor Mannikka, Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996), 148.
Notes to Pages 106–110 : 149 12 Hiram Woodward, “King Suryavarman II and the Power of Subjugation,” in On Meaning and Mantras: Essays in Honor of Frits Staal, ed. George Thompson and Richard K. Payne (Moraga, CA: Institute of Buddhist Studies and BDK America, 2016), 623–642. 13 I would like to thank H. E. Son Soubert for his help in verifying the practice of this ritual in the Royal Palace; e-mail exchange dated May 28, 2014. See Stuart White and Chean Sokha, “Ritual Forecast Heavy Rain,” Phnom Penh Post, November 2013, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/ritual-forecasts -heavy-rain (accessed June 29, 2014). 14 My thanks go to Ang Choulean for his elaboration on this annual ritual in our e-mail exchange date December 8, 2011. 15 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gkM0Xh5zd2c (accessed May 2, 2014). 16 See Khmer News, TVK Daily News report on the annual rain prediction ritual at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh, presided over by King Norodom Siha moni on November 18, 2013. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= g kM0Xh5zd2c (accessed May 13, 2014). 17 Gaudes, “Kaudinya, Preah Thaong, and the ‘Nagi Soma,’ ” 353. 18 See Institut des Français of Cambodia website: http://www.artistes -ifcambodge.com/en/18205-m-lim-keo (accessed February 18, 2019). 19 Michelle Vachon, “Cambodian Couture: Phnom Penh Meets Paris Fashion,” Cambodian Daily, January 28, 2005, http://www.cambodiadaily.com/archives /cambodian-couture-phnom-penh-meets-paris-fashion-950 (accessed May 23, 2014). 20 I would like to thank Sylvain Lim for sharing the photographs of Keopisith Lim’s collection with me. In addition, my thanks go to Suppya Hélène Nut for her help with my research on this particular collection. 21 European scholars have argued that Khmer kinship is matrilineal, but Judy Ledgerwood reviewed critically this corpus of writings and concluded that it is more of an evolving negotiation between power, gender, and wealth in Khmer society and not a fixed gendered structure as many scholars have claimed. See Judy Ledgerwood, “Khmer Kinship: The Matriliny/Matriarchy Myth,” Journal of Anthropological Research 53, no. 1 (Autumn 1995): 247–261. 22 Monivong Sisowath, Danses royales (Friday, September 20, 1934) (Phnom Penh: Aux Éditions de la bibliothèque royale, 1934), 1–12. I would like to thank Suppy Hélène Nut for bringing this reference to my attention. 23 “Naissance d’un opera ‘Preah Thong Neang Neak,’ spectacle offert par S. M. La Reine, interprété par le corps de ballet royal,” Kambuja Illustrated Monthly Review, December 1968, 12–14. 24 Fred Frumberg, “Beyond Revival and Preservation: Contemporary Dance in Cambodia,” in Stephanie Burridge and Fred Frumberg, eds., Beyond the Apsara: Celebrating Dance in Cambodia (New York: Routledge, 2010), 140–154.
150 : Notes to Pages 110–116 25 Kenneth Frampton, “Place-Form and Cultural Identity” in John Thakara, ed., Design after Modernism (New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988), 56. 26 Suppya Hélène Nut, “Interview with HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi,” Khmer Dance Project, July 10, 2008, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items /87ac1510-343a-0131-7bc9-3c075448cc4b#8:09 (accessed May 26, 2014). 27 Ibid. 28 Suppya Hélène Nut, “Interview with Voan Savay and Voeun Amrit,” Khmer Dance Project, August, 22, 2009, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items /96f3f480-3451-0131-e736-3c075448cc4b (accessed May 31, 2014). 29 Michael S. Falser, “From a Colonial Reinvention to Postcolonial Heritage and a Global Commodity: Performing and Re-enacting Angkor Wat and the Royal Khmer Ballet,” International Journal of Heritage Studies 20, nos. 7–8 (2014): 711–712. 30 See Norodom Sihanouk, Apsara (1966), https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= LbhoH4UZjd8 (accessed May 27, 2014). 31 Nut, “Interview with HRH Princess Norodom Buppha Devi.” 32 Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York: Grove Press, 1963), 244–245. 33 Norodom Buphha Devi, “Royal Dances of Cambodia—Revival and Preserva tion,” in Stephanie Burridge and Fred Frumberg, eds., Beyond the Apsara: Cel ebrating Dance in Cambodia (New York: Routledge, 2010), 1–13. 34 Ibid. 35 Raphael Lemkin, Lemkin on Genocide, ed. and intro. by Steven Leonard Jacobs (New York: Lexington Books, 2012), 40. 36 “Une naissance d’un opéra, ‘Preah Thong Neang Neak,’ spectacle offert by S. M. La Reine, interprété par le corps de ballet royal,” Kambuja Illustrated Monthly Review (December 1968). I would like to thank Suppya Nut for drawing my attention to this article. 37 Norodom Buppha Devi and Proeung Chhieng, The Legend of Apsara Mera, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2W__Dz7XFY0 (accessed July 9, 2014). 38 Proeung Chhieng, Masterclass, March 2013, https://www.youtube.com/watch ?v=d9HQckLFbJQ (accessed May 14, 2014). 39 Phroeung Chhieng, Masterclass, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v= d9HQckLFbJQ (accessed May 13, 2014). See also Pich Tum Kraval. 40 Suppy Nut, “Interview with Princess Buppha Devi,” July 25, 2008, Khmer Dance Project, http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/tools/video/dance/2589314895001 (accessed May 14, 2014). 41 Jacques Dolias, Le crocodile ou la nagi: L’océan dans l’ imaginaire Cambodgien (Paris: Les Indes savants, 2012). 42 Ibid., 5. 43 Sophiline Cheam Shapiro, “Cambodian Dance and the Individual Artist,” in
Notes to Pages 116–122 : 151 Naomi M. Jackson and Toni Shapiro-Phim, eds., Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice (New York: Scarecrow Press, 2008), 166–167. 44 See website for Sophiline Arts Emsemble: http://khmerarts.org/sophiline -arts-ensemble (accessed May 4, 2014). 45 My conversation with John Shapiro at his dance studio and theater in Takh mao, Cambodia, in 2012. 46 Tayeb Salih, Season of Migration to the North (New York: New York Review Book, 2009). 47 John Bishop, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro’s Seasons of Migration, documentary film (Long Beach, CA: Khmer Art Academy, 2005). 48 Toni Shapiro-Phim, Tradition and Innovation (Ithaca, NY: SEAP, 2010), 36. 49 John Bishop, Sophiline Cheam Shapiro’s Seasons of Migration, documentary film (Long Beach, CA: Khmer Art Academy, 2005). 50 Ibid. 51 Ibid. 52 Didier Bertrand, “The Names and Identities of the Boramey Spirits Possessing Mediums,” Asian Folklore Studies 60 (2001): 37. 53 Paul Gilroy, “It Ain’t Where You’re From, It’s Where You’re At . . . ,” Third Text 13 (Winter 1990): 3–16. 54 Bertrand, “Names and Identities of the Boramey Spirits,” 32. 55 Ibid., 37. 56 William Shakespeare, Complete Works, ed. Jonathan Bates and Eric Rasmussen (New York: Modern Library, 2007), 1911. 57 Ang Choulean, “In the Beginning Was the Bayon,” in Joyce Clark, ed., Bayon: New Perspectives (Bangkok: River Books, 2007), 375. 58 Stuart Hall, “Cultural Identity and Diaspora,” in J. Rutherford, ed., Identity, Community, Culture and Difference (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1990), 225. 59 The bas-reliefs at the north gallery at Angkor Wat were carved in the sixteenth century. Victor Goloubew pointed out that, stylistically, they look Chinese and ventured to posit that they might have been executed by Chinese artists. However, Jean Boisselier disagreed, suggesting that this Chinese influence might have come from the Siamese art of fifteenth-century Ayuthaya, where there were certainly Chinese artisans working in the Siamese capital. See Victor Goloubew, “Artisans chinois à Angkor Wat,” BEFEO 24 (1924): 513– 519; and Jean Boisselier, “Note sur les bas-reliefs tardifs d’Angkor Vat,” Journal Asiatique 2 (1962): 244–248. 60 Lan Sunnary, “Le dragon dans l’art Khmer,” EURASIE 7 (1997): 33–49. 61 Derrida, Dissemination, 103.
152 : Notes to Pages 123–128
Conclusion 1 Rithy Panh with Christophe Bataille, The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields, trans. John Cullen (New York: Other Press, 2012), 246. 2 Theodor W. Adorno, Negative Dialectics, trans. E. B. Ashton (New York: Continuum, 1973), 362–363. 3 Ung Bun Yim, “Reckoning with the Khmer Rouge,” in Dart Center For Journalism and Trauma (September 9, 2009), http://dartcenter.org/content /reckoning-with-khmer-rouge#.VGAt7RZECfR (accessed November 9, 2014). 4 Sharon May, “Interview with Soth Polin,” in The Shadow of Angkor, ed. Frank Stewart and Sharon May (Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004), 20. 5 Henri Locard, Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2004), 210. 6 Ibid., 107. 7 Caterina Y. Pierre, “Louis-Ernest Barrias and Modern Allegories of Technology,” Nineteenth-Century Art Worldwide: A Journal of Nineteenth-Century Visual Culture 11, no. 2 (Summer 2012), http://www.19thc-artworldwide.org /summer12/caterina-pierre-louis-ernest-barrias (accessed October 6, 2014). 8 Tep Yok and Thao Kun (membres de la commission culturelle), Petit diction naire français-khmer (Phnom Penh: Bannakear Phnom Penh), 1377. Also see Vandy Kaonn, Quelques aspects de la philosophie du VIe siècle av. J.-C. à nos jours (Paris: Ponleu, 2013), 482. 9 Ed Fields and Robert H. Gardner, In the Shadow of Angkor Wat (VHS, Home vision, 2000). Also see Didier Bertrand, “The Names of Identities of ‘Boramey’ Spirits Possessing Cambodian Mediums,” Asian Folklore Studies 60, no. 1(2001): 31–47. 10 Nhean Socheat, “Return Cambodia’s Treasures, Repair Our People’s Souls,” Phnom Penh Post, May 26, 2014, http://www.phnompenhpost.com/analysis -and-op-ed/return-cambodia’s-treasures-repair-our-people’s-souls (accessed June 2, 2014). 11 Conversation with Toni Morrison about her novel Home, Chaine de Festival America 2012, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXGaaeImE-g (accessed October 18, 2014). 12 “Interview: Gridthiya Caweewong and Vandy Rattana” in Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, Contemporary Art and Urban Change in Cambodia, ed. Erin Gleeson (Berlin: ifa-Galerie Berlin and Institut für Austlandsbeziehungen, 2012), 109. 13 Chanthou Oeur, “Artist Statement,” http://www.andresinstitute.org/2006Snarmscar .html (accessed August 9, 2013).
Adorno, Theodor W. Negative Dialectics. Translated by E. B. Ashton. New York: Continuum, 1973. Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 1983. ———. “Definitions of Nationalism and Identity in the World and in Asia: Lectures by Benedict Anderson, December 19, 2008.” In Reader 6, 63–90. Siem Reap, Cambodia: Center for Khmer Studies, 2008. ———. The Fate of Rural Hell: Asceticism and Desire in Buddhist Thailand. New York: Seagull Books, 2012. ———. “The Strange Story of a Strange Beast: Receptions in Thailand of Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Sat pralaat.” In Glimpses of Freedom: Independent Cinema in Southeast Asia, edited by May Adadol Ingawanij and Benjamin McKay, 149–164. Ithaca, NY: SEAP, 2012. Ang, Choulean. Brah Ling. Phnom Penh: Reyum Publishing, 2004. ———. “In the Beginning Was the Bayon.” In Bayon: New Perspectives, edited by Joyce Clark, 364–377. Bangkok: River Books, 2007. Balaram, Rakhee. “Open Wounds: Vandy Rattana.” In The Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations, edited by Sabine Eckmann, 94–98. St. Louis, MO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2014. Baptiste, Pierre, and Thierry Zephir. Angkor: Naissance d’un mythe. Paris: Le Musée Guimet, 2013. Baxandall, Michael. Pattern of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985. Becker, Elizabeth. When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revo lution. New York: Public Affairs, 1998. Becker, Gay, Yewoubdar Beyene, and Pauline Ken. “Memory, Trauma, Embodied Distress: The Management of Disruption in the Stories of Cambodians in Exile.” Ethnos 28, no. 1 (2002): 320–345. Benjamin, Walter. “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” In Illuminations: Essays and Reflections, edited by Hannah Arendt, edited and translated by Harry Zohn, 233–234. New York: Schocken Books, 1968. Bertrand, Didier. “The Names and Identities of the Boramey Spirits Possessing Mediums.” Asian Folklore Studies 60 (2001): 31–47. Blum-Reid, Sylvie. East–West Encounters: Franco-Asian Cinema and Literature. London: Wallflower Press, 2000.
154 : selected bibliography Boisselier, Jean. “Note sur les bas-reliefs tardifs d’Angkor Vat.” Journal Asiatique 2 (1962): 244–248. Boyle, Deirdre. “Trauma, Memory, Documentary: Re-enactment in Two Films by Rithy Panh (Cambodia) and Garin Nugroho (Indonesia).” In Documentary Testimonies: Global Archives of Suffering, edited by Bhaskar Sarkar and Janet Walker, 155–172. New York: Routledge, 2013. Carpentier, Alejo. “The Baroque and the Marvelous.” In Magical Realism: Theory, History, Community, translated by Tanya Huntington and Lois Parkinson Zamora, edited by Lois Parkinson Zamora and B. Wendy Farris, 101–125. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1995. Caruth, Cathy. Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative, and Theory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. ———, ed. Trauma: Exploration in Memory. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Caswell, Michelle. Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photo graphic Record in Cambodia. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 2014. Catalla, Teodoro, Ambrosio P. Catalla, Kha Sovanara, and Gerard van Mourik, eds. Out of the Shadows: Male to Male Sexual Behavior in Cambodia. Phnom Penh: Khana 2003. Chandler, David P. Brother Number One: A Political Biography of Pol Pot. Boulder, CO: Westview Press 1992. ———. Voices from S-21: Terror and History in Pol Pot’s Secret Prison. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999. Cheam Shapiro, Sophiline. “Cambodian Dance and the Individual Artist.” In Dance, Human Rights, and Social Justice, edited by Naomi M. Jackson and Toni Shapiro-Phim, 166–167. New York: Scarecrow Press, 2008. Chhim, Sotheara. “Baksbat (Broken Courage): The Development and Validation of the Inventory to Measure Baksbat, A Cambodian Trauma-based Cultural Syndrome of Distress.” Culture, Medicine, and Psychiatry 36, no. 4 (2012): 640–659. Chou, Ta-Kuan. The Customs of Cambodia. Translated by Jean Gilman d’Arcy Paul. Bangkok: The Siam Society, 1993. [Suggest using the Peter Harris translation from the Chinese.] Clewell, Tammy. “Mourning beyond Melancholia: Freud’s Psychoanalysis of Loss.” Journal of the American Psychoanalysis Association 52, no. 1 (2014): 43–67. Coates, Karen J., and Jerry Redfern. Eternal Harvest: The Legacy of American Bombs in Laos. San Francisco, CA: Things Asian Press, 2013. Coedès, George. Inscriptions du Cambodge. Paris, École française d’Extrême- Orient 4 (1952): 95–96. Dacanay, Nikos. “Encounters in the Sauna: Exploring Gay Identity and Power Structures in Gay Places in Bangkok.” In Queer Bangkok: Twenty-First
selected bibliography : 155 Century Markets, Media and Rights, edited by Peter A. Jackson, 99–117. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2011. Derks, Annuska. Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Life and Work in Urban Cambodia. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2008. Derrida, Jacques. Dissemination.Translated and introduction by Barbara Johnson. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1981. Dolias, Jacques. Le crocodile ou la nagi: L’océan dans l’ imaginaire Cambodgien. Paris: Les Indes savants, 2012. Eckmann, Sabine. 2014. “Memory, History, and the Real.” In The Aftermath of Trauma: Contemporary Video Installations, edited by Sabine Eckmann, 17–19. Saint Louis, MO: Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, 2014. Edwards, Bradford. 2010.“Flowers and Treachery.” Asian Art News (September/ October 2010): 60–70. Edwards, Penny. 2007. “Womanizing Indochina: Fiction, Nation and Cohabitation in Colonial Cambodia.” In Domesticating the Empire: Race, Gender and Family Life in French and Dutch Colonialism, edited by Julia Clancy-Smith and Frances Gouda, 108–130. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia 1998. ———. Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation: 1860–1945. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2007. Falser, Michael S. “From a Colonial Reinvention to Postcolonial Heritage and a Global Commodity: Performing and Re-enacting Angkor Wat and the Royal Khmer Ballet.” International Journal of Heritage Studies 20 (2014): 702–723. Fanon, Frantz. The Wretched of the Earth. New York: Grove Press, 1963. Fassin, Didier, and Richard Rechtman. The Empire of Trauma: An Inquiry into the Condition of Victimhood. Translated by Rachel Gomme. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2009. French, Lindsay. 2002. “Exhibiting Terror.” In Truth Claims: Representation and Human Rights, edited by Mark Philip Bradley and Patrice Petro, 131–155. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2009. Foster, Hal, ed. 1988. Vision and Visuality. New York: New Press. Frampton, Kenneth. “Place-Form and Cultural Identity.” In Design after Modern ism, edited by John Thakara, 51–60. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1988. ———.“Towards A Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance.” In The Anti-Aesthetic: Essays on Postmodern Culture, edited by Hal Foster, 17–34. New York: The New Press, 1998. Freud, Sigmund. Beyond the Pleasure Principle. London: The Hogarth Press, 1955. ———.“Mourning and Melancholia.” In The Standard Edition of the Complete Works of Sigmund Freud, edited by James Strachey et al., 14:239–258. London: The Hogarth Press Institute and the Institute of Psychoanalysis, 1971.
156 : selected bibliography Frumberg, Fred. 2010. “Beyond Revival and Preservation: Contemporary Dance in Cambodia.” In Beyond the Apsara: Celebrating Dance in Cambodia, edited by Stephanie Burridge and Fred Frumberg, 140–154. New York: Routledge, 2010. Gaudes, Rüdiger. “Kaundinya, Preah Thaong, and the “Nagi Soma”: Some Aspects of a Cambodia Legend.” Asian Folklore Studies 52, no. 2 (1993): 333–358. Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books, 1979. Gilroy, Paul. 1990. “It Ain’t Where You’re From, It’s Where You’re At. . . . .” Third Text 13 (Winter 1990): 3–16. Gleeson, Erin, ed. 2011. Phnom Penh: Rescue Archaeology, Contemporary Art and Urban Change in Cambodia. Berlin: ifa-Galerie Berlin and Institut für Aust landsbeziehungen, 2011. Goloubew, Victor. “Artisans chinois à Angkor Wat.” BEFEO 24 (1924): 513–519. Hall, Stuart.“Cultural Identity and Diaspora.” In Identity, Community, Culture and Difference, edited by J. Rutherford, 222–237. London: Lawrence and Wishart; New York: Routledge, 1990. ———. Modernity: An Introduction to Modern Societies. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1996. Herbert, Patricia M. The Life of the Buddha. Petaluma, CA: Pomegranate Communications, 2005. Hirsch, Marianne. The Generation of Postmemory: Writing and Visual Culture after the Holocaust. New York: Columbia University Press, 2012. Hoc Dy, Khing. Anthologie de la littérature Khmère du XIXème siècle. Phnom Penh: Edition Angkor, 2003. ———. “Les roman classiques Khmer et les jatakas extra-canoniques.” Péninsule 53 (2006): 5–26. Jenkins, Nash. “Nearly 1,500 Khmer Rouge Prisoners’ Photographs Donated to Document Center.” Voice of America, August 23, 2012, 1–2. Jenner, Philip, and Saveros Pou. “A Lexicon of Khmer Morphology.” Mon-Khmer Studies 9–10 (1980–1981): 1–517. Keo, Dacil, and Nean Yin. “Fact Sheet on ‘S-21’ Tuol Sleng Prison.” Searching for the Truth Magazine, December 2010, 1–8. Kiernan, Ben. The Pol Pot Regime: Race, Power, and Genocide in Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge Regime, 1975–1979. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996. Kracauer, Siegfried. The Mass Ornament: Weimar Essays. Translated, edited, and with an introduction by Thomas Y. Levin. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995. Kristeva, Julia. ”The Pain of Sorrow in the Modern World: The Works of Marguerite Duras.” Publications of the Modern Language Association 102, no. 2 (1987): 138–152. Lan, Sunnary. “Le dragon dans l’art Khmer.” EURASIE 7 (1997): 33–49.
selected bibliography : 157 Le Bonheur, Albert. Of Gods, Kings, and Men: Bas-reliefs of Angkor Wat and Bayon. London: Serindia Publications, 1995. Lemkin, Raphael. Lemkin on Genocide. Edited and with introduction by Steven Leonard Jacobs. New York: Lexington Books, 2012. Leyes, Ruth. Trauma: A Genealogy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000. Locard, Henri. Pol Pot’s Little Red Book: The Sayings of Angkar. Chiang Mai, Thailand: Silkworm Books, 2004. Lowenthal, David. The Past Is a Foreign Country. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. Lubin, David.“They Were Really Nice Guys: Louis L. Meisel Talks to David Lubin about Photorealism’s Beginnings.” In Picturing America, edited by Valerie Hillings and David Lubin, 1–8. New York: Bernarducci Meisel Gallery, 2009. Ly, Daravuth, and Ingrid Muan. Cultures of Independence: Introduction to Cambo dian Arts and Culture in the 1950’s and 1960’s. Phnom Penh: Reyum Publish ing, 2001. Mabbett, Ian, and David Chandler. The Khmers. Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1995. Maguire, Peter. Facing Death in Cambodia. New York: Columbia University Press, 2005. Mannikka, Eleanor. 1996. Angkor Wat: Time, Space, and Kingship. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 1996. May, Sharon. “Interview with Soth Polin.” In The Shadow of Angkor, edited by Frank Stewart and Sharon May, 22–28. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press, 2004. Meisel, Louis K. Photorealism. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1980. Meng, Bou. Bou Meng: A Survivor from Khmer Rouge Prison S-21. Translated by Huy Vannak and foreword by Seth Mydans. Phnom Penh: Documentation Center of Cambodia, 2010. Mertha, Andrew. Brothers in Arms: Chinese Aids to the Khmer Rouge, 1975–1979. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2014. Mirzoeff, Nicholas. “On Visuality.” Journal of Visual Culture 5, no. 1 (2006): 53–79. Moore, Anne Elizabeth. “Flower Come from My Mouth.” In Heavy Skirt: Leang Seckon, edited by Tara Shaw-Jackson, 9–16. London: Rossi and Rossi Gallery, 2010. Mortland, Carol A. “Khmer Buddhists in the United States: Ultimate Questions.” In Cambodian Culture since 1975: Homeland and Exile, edited by May M. Ebihara, Carol A. Mortland, and Judy Ledgerwood, 72–90. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1994. Mulligan, Therese. Bernie Boston: American Photojournalist. New York: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2006.
158 : selected bibliography Nath, Vann. Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21. Bangkok: White Lotus, 1998. Neveu, Roland. The Fall of Phnom Penh: 17 April 1975. Bangkok: Asian Horizons Books, 2007. Nhem, Em, and Dara Duong. Nhem En: The Khmer Rouge’s Photographer at S-21 under the Khmer Rouge Genocide. Phnom Pen: Self-published, 2014. Ong, Aihwa. Buddha Is Hiding: Refugees, Citizenship, the New America. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003. Overland, Gwynyth. Post-Traumatic Survival: A Study of Cambodian Resilience. Cambridge: Cambridge Scholarly Publishing, 2013. Owen, Taylor, and Ben Kiernan. “Bombs over Cambodia.” The Walrus, October 2006, 62–69. Panh Rithy with Christophe Bataille. “Cambodia: A Wound That Will Not Heal.” The Unesco Courier 52, no. 12 (1999): 30. ———. The Elimination: A Survivor of the Khmer Rouge Confronts His Past and the Commandant of the Killing Fields. Translated by John Cullen. New York: Other Press, 2012. Peou, Sarith. Corpse Watching. Foreword by Ed Bob Lee. Kaneohe, Hawaii: Tinfish Press, 2008. Phay-Vakalis, Soko. “Ateliers de la Memoire/Memory Workshops.” In Création et postmémoire/Creation and Postmemory, edited by Pierre Bayard and Soko Phay-Vakalis, 1–38. Paris: Art absoluement, 2013. Phim, Toni S., and Ashley Thompson. Dance in Cambodia. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Rushdie, Salman. Imaginary Homelands: Essays and Criticism 1981–1991. London: Granta Books, 1992. Saltzman, Lisa, and Eric Rosenberg, eds. Trauma and Visuality in Modernity. Hanover, NH: Dartmouth College Press, 2006. Scarry, Elaine. The Body in Pain. New York: Oxford University Press, 1985. Schlund-Vials, Cathy M. Cambodian American Memory Work. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2013. Shakespeare, William. Complete Works. Edited by Jonathan Bates and Eric Rasmussen. New York: Modern Library, 2007. Shapiro-Phim, Toni. Tradition and Innovation. Ithaca, NY: SEAP, 2010. Shawcross, William. Sideshow: Kissinger, Nixon, and the Destruction of Cambodia. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979. ———. The Quality of Mercy. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2007. Snellgrove, David. Angkor—Before and After: A Cultural History of the Khmers. New York: Weatherhill, 2004. Stopford, Annie. “Turning a River of Blood into a River of Reconciliation: Cambodia’s Catastrophe.” Documentation Center of Cambodia Magazine: Searching for the Truth, October 2009, 1–3.
selected bibliography : 159 Uk, Krisna. Salvage: Cultural Resilience among the Jorai of Northeast Cambodia. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2016. Um, Khatharya.“Scars of War: Educational Issues and Challenges for CambodianAmerican Students.” In Asian-American Education: Prospects and Chal lenges, edited by Clara C. Park et al., 263–284.Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999. ———. “Refractions of Home: Exile, Memory and Diasporic Longing.” In Expres sions of Cambodia: The Politics of Tradition, Identity, and Change, edited by Leakthina Chau-Pech Ollier and Tim Winter, 86–100. New York: Routledge, 2006. ———. From the Land of Shadows: War, Revolution, and the Making of the Cambo dian Diaspora. New York: New York University Press, 2015. Vandy Kaonn. Quelques aspects de la philosophie du VIe siècle av. J.-C. à nos jours. Paris: Ponleu, 2013. Williams, Raymond. The Country and the City. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. Woodward, Hiram. “King Suryavarman II and the Power of Subjugation.” In On Meaning and Mantras: Essays in Honor of Frits Staal, edited by George Thompson and Richard K. Payne, 623–642. Moraga, CA: Institute of Buddhist Studies and BDK America, 2016. Woodward, Richard et al. An-My Le: Small Wars. New York: Aperture, 2005. Yok, Tep, and Thao Kun Kun (membres de la commission culturelle). Petit dictionnaire français-khmer. Phnom Penh: Bannakear Phnom Penh, 2010. Zelizer, Barbie. About to Die: How News Images Move the Public. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.
Index Page numbers in boldface refer to illustrations. Adorno, Theodor, 5–8, 9, 123, 124 aesthetics, 10, 61–65, 78, 115 allegory vs. iconicity, 125–126 Amam Café and Spa (gay bathhouse), 99 ancient/traditional artworks: Angkor Wat temple, 3, 80, 105–106, 111, 112, 119, Plates 23–24; Baksei Chamkrong temple, 104; court dance, 29, 109–116; and French colonialism, 110, 113; and the Khmer Rouge, 3; and the krama, 96; and Oeur’s sculptures, 53–54; repatriation of, 126–127. See also national identity Anderson, Benedict, 9, 95 Ang Choulean, 120 Angkar, 2–3, 10, 59–61, 65, 66–68, 123–125 Die Angkar (The Angkar), 67 Angkor Wat temple, 3, 80, 105–106, 111, 112, 119, Plates 23–24 Ang Saroeun (Khmer Rouge cameraman), 64 Apsara (film), 112 Apsara dances, 29, 109–116 Apsara Sar, 112 Baxandall, Michael, 70 Becker, Elizabeth, 62–63 Benjamin, Walter, 10, 30–31, 53, 61, 66, 77–78 bicultural ethnicity, 90–96, Plates 19–20 Bishop, John, 117 the body: as site of trauma and memory, 18–20, 44–45. See also broken body (baksbat); embodiment; the female body; scars/traces (snarm) Bomb Ponds, 40–45, 85, Plate 6 bombs/bombing. See United States’ secret bombing
Bopha Xorigia (Lê Huy Hoàng), 90–96, Plates 19–20 boramey (wise and virtuous spirits), 119–120, Plate 27 Both Sonrin’s Landscape painting, 35–36, 85 Bou Meng (painter), 61, 68, 70–72 Boyle, Deirdre, 39 Broken (Sanford), 21–22, Plate 2 broken body (baksbat): and broken courage, 10, 15–17, 24, 35, 39; and the broken female body, 124–126; as cultural syndrome of distress, 10, 13; defined, 16; vs. Freud’s melancholia, 10, 33–35, 36; irreparability of, 16, 21–22, 36, 39, 128; and legacy of absence, 20; and reparation, 16, 17, 21–23, 36, 39, 128; in traditional healing, 13, 15–16. See also the female body broken pots, 21–24, 34 “Brother Number One.” See Pol Pot portraits Buddhist influences: and antidiscrimination movements, 101; in The Elephant in the Blood Pond, 88, Plate 16; kamma, 51, 52; and the krama, 81–82; and marvelous realism, 50–53; and Pol Pot portrait veneration, 77; and the Pǔtth Tǔmneay, 57, 88, Plate 16; and spirits, 23–24, 119–120, Plate 3, 27 Buppha Devi. See Norodom Buppha Devi (Princess) Cambodian diaspora. See diaspora Camus, Marcel, 111–112 Carpentier, Alejo, 50
162 : Index censorship, 61–66 Chan, Im (wood carver/sculptor), 61, 68, 69–70, Plates 12–14 Chandler, David, 65 Cheam Shapiro, Sophiline, 116–119. See also Neang Neak:Rejection and Acceptance; Seasons of Migration Chea Vichea assassination, 96 Cheun See Babor Thnot (You painting), 89–90, 125, Plate 18 Chhay Bora, 85, 86 Chhim, Sotheara, 10, 13, 15–16, 19, 23, 34–35, 127 China, and the Khmer Rouge, 70–71, 88–90 Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over, 94 clay figurines, and resilience, 29, 30, 31, 33 clay pots, as symbols of the female body, 22–23, 90 communism: of Khmer Rouge, 70–71, 78, 87, 89; and politics of aesthetics, 10, 61, 66, 78; and red krama, 89–90 corpses: and The Elephant and the Blood Pond, 88; and legacy of absence (in Panh’s clay figures), 31–33; and traumatic memory narrative, 40–43 Corpse Watching (“Scars”), 18–20 “critical regionalism,” 110–111 cult of personality, 66 cultural genocide, 3 dance-drama: and the Khmer Rouge, 113; Kossamak Neariroth’s nationalist revision of, 29, 84, 109–113; and national identity, 29, 84, 110–116; and the sbay, 109–111, 114, 115, 117–119; and social class, 103, 116. See also Cheam Shapiro; Norodom Buppha Devi; serpent princess; serpents dance-drama performances: The Legend of Apsara Mera, 109–116; Neang Neak: Rejection and Acceptance (Cheam Shapiro), 117–119; Preah Thong Neang Neak, 103–105, 107, 109–110, 113–115; Seasons of Migration, 116–119 Democratic Kampuchea. See Khmer Rouge regime
Derrida, Jacques, 9, 121–122, 130n13 diaspora: and Cheam Shapiro’s innovation in dance, 116–119; and subjectivity, x–xi, 14–15, 117–119; and trauma care (biomedicine and psychiatry), 15 Documentation Center of Cambodia, 86 Don’t Be Shy (eroticism), 99–100 Duch (Kaing Guek Eav), 2, 69, 71–75, 78–79 Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell (Panh), 63, 85 Duras, Marguerite, 44 Edwards, Bradford, 53 The Elephant and the Blood Pond (painting), 88, Plate 16 The Elimination (Panh), 43, 123 embodiment: and Angkar, 2; in art works, 13; in clay figures, 29–31; and cultural norms, 16–17; defined, 16; and female body as nation, 11, 52, 90; of Khmer ethnicity/kingdom in serpent, 8, 11, 81, 103, 118–121; of revolutionary ideology (in portraits), 61, 63, 70, 77–78; of trauma/memory/ displacement, 20, 24, 29–30. See also broken body (baksbat); Pol Pot portraits; scars/traces (snarm); serpent princess; serpents ethics of genocide representation, 4–5, Plate 1 ethnic identity: bicultural, 90–96, Plates 19–20; and Cambodian modern geopolitics, 87; and Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over, 94; visual markers of, 80, 91, 96, 101, 103, 121. See also the krama; serpent princess (Neang Neak); serpents ethnicity, and Neang Neak, 103 Fanon, Frantz, 93, 112 Fassin, Didier, 17 the female body: as bomb-ripped nation, 52–53; and clay pots, 22–23, 90; iconicity vs. allegory, 125–126; as the nation, 11, 52, 90; physical and
Index : 163 emotional heaviness (domeguon), 46; and regime change, 124–125; and trauma, 11, 22–23, 90, 124–126 film/filmmaking: Apsara (film), 112; and bodily sites of trauma, 44; Kauv Sotheary, 86; and Khmer Rouge propaganda, 29–30, 31, 59, 63–64; and land/landscapes, 35–36, 85, 86, Plate 15; Ly Bun Yim, 51; Rithy Panh, 12, 20, 27–35, 59, 75–76, 85, 123; and sugar palms, 85, 86; and the Vietnam War, 41 Frampton, Kenneth, 110 Free Trade Union, 96 Freud, Sigmund, 9, 13–18, 33–34 Full Circle (Sanford), 22–24, 35, 90, 125, Plate 3 gay bathhouses, 99, 100–101 Geertz, Clifford, 10, 13 gender: clay pots as the female body, 22–23, 90; the female body as the nation, 11, 52; female dance roles in national reconstruction, 110–111, 114, 115; and female empowerment/agency, 119; female serpent as Khmer ethnicity/ kingdom, 118–121; feminist geneology of trauma, 14, 15–17; masculinity as a bull, 100; masculinity symbol (bull), 100; matrilineality, 11, 103, 107, 109, 124, 149n21; pregnancy in Heavy Skirt, 46; and “queering” the krama, 99–101, Plates 21–22 genocide: and art production, 5–8, 9, 123, 124; “auto-genocide,” x, 5–6, 36, 128; cultural, 3; Documentation Center of Cambodia, 86; ethics of representation/interpretation, 4–5, Plate 1; and “post-memory” generation, 15, 128; and the Pǔtth Tǔmneay Buddhist prophesy, 57, 88; and US secret bombing, 14, 37–39. See also broken body (baksbat); trauma Hall, Stuart, 102, 103, 121 Heavy Skirt series: and Buddhist Marvelous Realism, 50–53; The Flowering
Parachute Skirt, 52; Samput Mien Domguon (Heavy Skirt), 45–46, Plate 8; Samput Rohait (Torn Skirt), 52, Plate 10; Samput Bohbaouey (Flickering Skirt), 49–50, Plate 9; Samput Phka Meas (The Golden Flower Skirt), 46, Plate 7; and the US bombings, 46–48 Hirsch, Marianne, 14, 25 homosexuality in visual culture, 99–102 Horny Krama, 100, Plate 21 iconicity vs. allegory, 125–126 identity. See ethnic identity; national identity Imagined Communities, 95 installations: Bomb Ponds, 40–45, 85, Plate 6; Broken (Sanford), 21–22, Plate 2; Full Circle (Sanford), 22–24, 35, 90, 125, Plate 3; Heavy Skirt series, 45–50, 52, Plates 7–10; Lê, 91–96, Plates 19–20; Rain (Lê), 94–95; Suspended (Sanford), 25–27, Plates 4–5 interrogations, 30, 69, 71–72, 84–85 Janet, Pierre, 42 Kampuchea National Unification Front, 71 kamtech (policy of erasure), 2–4, 10, 60, 64, 123 Kauv Sotheary (filmmaking), 86 Khmer etymology, 104–105 Khmer national identity. See national identity the Khmer Rouge, and court dance, 113 Khmer Rouge regime (Democratic Kampuchea): agrarianism of, 2, 30, 59–60, 62, 64, 77; and ancient arts, 3; artist interrogations, 30, 69, 71–72, 84–85; censorship of media, 61–66; and China, 70–71, 88–90; communism, 70–71, 78, 87, 89; cooptation of the krama, 84–85, 103; and culture destruction, 2–4, 10, 60, 64, 123; Elizabeth Becker photographs
164 : Index of, 62–63; and the female body, 124–125. See also Duch; genocide; Pol Pot portraits Khun (sculptor), 68–69 Kiernan, Ben, 38, 57 King Sihanouk, 87 The Kiss, 87 Korb (mad poet), 56–58, 90 Kossamak Neariroth (Queen), 29, 84, 109–113 Kracauer, Siegfried, 81 Krama (Oeur poem), 82–83 the krama: in anti-neoliberal protests, 96–99, 98; and bicultural ethnicity, 90–92, 93, Plates 19–20; as egalitarian symbol, 103; and executions, deaths, suicide, 35, 85, 92, 144n8; and Khmer national identity, 80–102; and LGBTQI pride, 99–102, Plates 21–22; and “mass adornment,” 81, 99; and “nation branding,” 81; origins, use and description, 81–85, 82, 92; and revolutionary ideology, 30; as symbol of revolutionary ideals, 81; in You’s self-portrait, 88, Plate 17 KramaNation, 95–96 Kristeva, Julia, 44 land/landscapes: and Bomb Ponds (photographs), 40–45, 85, Plate 6; in film and painting, 35–36, 85, 86, Plate 15; and scars/traces (snarm), 38–39 Landscape (Both Sonrin), 35–36, 85 Laos, US bombing of, 38–39 Leang Seckon, 45–50, 52, 53, 88, Plates 7–10, 16. See also The Elephant and the Blood Pond; Heavy Skirt series; Samput Mien Domguon (Heavy Skirt); Samput Phka Meas (The Golden Flower Skirt) legacy of absence: and broken body (baksbat), 20; defined, 13, 25; in Rithy Panh, 27–28, 31–33; in Suspended, 25–27, Plates 4–5 The Legend of Apsara Mera, 109–116 Lê Huy Hoàng (Bopha Xorigia), 90–96,
Plates 19–20. See also Chronicle of a Tape Recorded Over; Rain Lemkin, Raphael, 3 LGBTQ1 in art, 99–102, Plate 21 Lim Keo Piseth (fashion designer), 107–109, Plate 25 Lina Pha photographs, 97, 98 Lon Nol (General), 1, 70–71, 87, 113 Ly Bun Yim (filmmaker), 51 Mao Zedong portraits, 70, 72–74 masculinity symbol (bull), 100 “mass adornment,” 81, 99 matrilineality, 11, 103, 107, 109, 124, 149n21 Meisel, Louis K., 72 memory: and bicultural/biethnic identity, 89–91, 93; and bodily sites of trauma, 44–45; as embodied and socially constructed, 20; and kamtech, 7, 60; and the legacy of absence (Panh), 27–28, 31–33; narrative vs. traumatic, 42–43; trauma and mourning (absence), 20, 25–30, 35, 36, 43 Mera: in diasporic dance-drama, 118–122; in The Legend of Aspara Mera, 109–116; as Neang Neak, 104–106 mimesis and reproduction, 66, 72 The Missing Picture (Panh), 27, 28–32, 36, 53, 63, 64 moral aporia (doubt), xii “Mourning and Melancholia 33–34 mourning and reparation: through clay figurines, 29, 30, 31, 33; and clay pots, 21–24, 34 Muoy (You Khin’s wife), 87–88 Mydans, Seth, 4 nagi (female serpent), 120, See also serpent princess (Neang Neak); serpents national identity: and court dance, 29, 84, 110–116; and ethnicity, 90-96, Plates 19–20; and the female body, 125; and the krama, 80–102, 81–85; KramaNation, 95–96; and the krama/ sugar palms combined (You Khin), 87–90, 95; and the LGBTQ1
Index : 165 community, 99–102, Plate 21; and Neang Neak, 81, 103; and the Nokor Kok Thlok myth, 103–105; as a production, 102; reconstruction of, 8, 95–96, 102–103; and sugar palms, 81, 85–87; visual markers of, 80. See also ethnic identity Neang Neak: Rejection and Acceptance (Cheam Shapiro), 118–120 Neang Neak. See serpent princess (Neang Neak) Neang Nov (Leang’s mother), 46–50 Negative Dialectics (Adorno), 6–7 neoliberal authoritarianism, 96–98 Nguyen Trinh Thi, 94 Nhek Dim (landscape painter), 85, 86, Plate 15 Nhem En (Tuol Sleng photographer), 65, 73, 73, 77, 141n14 Nokor Kok Thlok (Kingdom of the Thlok tree) myth, historical validity of, 103–106, 120–121, Plates 28–29 Norodom Buppha Devi (Princess): and the Apsara dance, 29, 109, 110–116; and L’oiseau de paradis (Camus), 111. See also Apsara Sar; The Legend of Apsara Mera; The Missing Picture; L’oiseau de paradis; Preah Thong Neang Neak Norodom Sihanouk: and the bones of the dead, 35; and cultural reconstruction, 106, 110–113; and the LGBTQI community, 99; overthrow and exile, 1–2, 70–71, 87; and the Sangkum Reastr Niyum period (1955–1970), 110; and Vann Nath, 74; wearing a krama, 84 Nuon Chea (Brother Number Two), 78 Oeur, Chanthou (Chakra/O’Bon) stone sculptor/poet, 53–56, Plate 11 L’oiseau de paradis, 111–112 Owen, Taylor, 38 pain, 44, 51 painting, photorealism in, 61, 72–74, 76–77
palm sugar, and bicultural ethnicity, 90–92, 93, Plates 19–20 palm trees, 10, 81, 85–87, Plate 15 Panh, Rithy (filmmaker), 12, 20, 27–35, 59, 85, 123. See also Duch: Master of the Forges of Hell; The Missing Picture; Rice People; S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine panopticon (pineapple eyes), 59–61, 65, 68 Paysage 1975–1979 (Both Sonrin painting), 85 Pha Lina photographs, 97, 98 pharmakon (Derrida), 9, 121–122 photography: and Bomb Ponds, 40–45, 85, Plate 6; of Pha Lina, 97, 98; and Pol Pot portraits, 72, 73; and protest, 97, 98; and revolutionary photorealism, 28, 72–74, 76–77; as surveillance tool, 61, 64–66; at Tuol Sleng (S-21), 65, 67, 68, 73, 77, 141n14; and the Vietnam War, 41 photorealism, 28, 61, 72–74, 76–77 Pich Tum Kravel (poet/playwright), x, 80 Pithi Samrork Tean (candle dripping wax) ritual, 106–107 poems/poetry: Corpse Watching (“Scars”), 18–20; Krama (Prom Manh), 82–83; and marvelous realism, 50–51; the Pǔtth Tǔmneay (Buddhist prophesy), 57, 88, Plate 16; Snarm (Oeur), 37, 128 politics of aesthetics, 10, 61–65, 78, 115 Pol Pot (Saloth Sar), biography, 66–67, 79 Pol Pot portraits: bas-reliefs, 69, Plate 12; busts, 69–70, 75, 76, Plates 13–14; colossus, 78–79; as embodiment of revolutionary ideology, 61, 63, 66, 70–78; modeled on Mao’s, 70–74; model photograph and sketch, 72, 73; veneration of images (like Buddha), 77. See also Bou Meng; Chan, Im; Vann Nath postmemory, 15, 25–26, 35, 128 pralungs (vital spirits), 23–24, Plate 3 Preah Thong Neang Neak, 103–105, 107, 109–110, 113–115 Prom Manh’s Krama (poem), 82–83
166 : Index propaganda, in film, 29–30, 31, 59, 63–64 Pǔtth Tǔmneay (Buddhist prophesy), 57, 88, Plate 16 Rain installation (Lê), 94–95 ramvong (circle dance), 23 realism: Buddhist marvelous, 50–53; photorealism, 28, 61, 72–74, 76–77 Rechtman, Richard, 17 reparation: and the broken body, 16, 17, 21–23, 36, 39, 128; and the Cambodian nation, 126–127; and scars/traces, 47, 53 repatriation of artworks, 126–127 resilience: through clay figurines, 29, 30, 31, 33; and the female body, 125; and Leang’s flower bombs, 51–52; and trauma embodied in art, 39; and traumatic memory reenactments, 40–44. See also Leang Seckon; Oeur, Chanthou; scars/traces (snarm); Vandy Rattana revolutionary ideology: and Angkar, 2–3, 10, 59–61; embodied in Pol Pot’s portraits, 61, 63, 66, 70, 77–78; in film, 29–30, 31, 59, 63–64; and the krama, 30; and photography/ photorealism, 28, 72–74, 76–77; songs and slogans, 59 Rice People (Panh), 85 ritual, of Pithi Samrork Tean (candle dripping wax), 106–107 rituals, wedding, 8, 10–12, 103, 104, 107, 108 S-21: The Khmer Rouge Killing Machine (Panh film), 75–76 Salih, Tayeb, 116 Saloth Sar. See Pol Pot Samput Mien Domguon (Heavy Skirt), 45–50, 125 Samput Phka Meas (The Golden Flower Skirt), 46–47, Plates 7–10 Sam Satya (as Neang Neak), Plate 26 Sanford, Amy Lee (née Ly Sundari), 20–27, 90, Plates 2–5. See also Broken; Full Circle; Suspended
Sangkum Reastr Niyum period (1955– 1970), 110 Sang Sam Bol (Lê’s father), 90–91, 94 Sarith Manh, 29–31 Sarith Peou, 18–20 sbay: in dance-drama performances, 109–111, 114, 115, 117–119; and weddings, 107–109, 108 scallions, 57 scarf. See the krama Scarry, Elaine, 44 “Scars” (Corpse Watching), 18–20 scars/traces (snarm): defined, 4, 39; and (in) visible trauma (hidden), 55–56; and Korb (mad poet), 56–58; on the land, 38–39; and language of pain, 44, 51; in Leang Seckon’s works, 45–50, Plates 7–10, 16; in Oeur’s works, 53–55, 128, Plate 11; and resilience, 39, 125; and trauma embodiment, 16–17; in Vandy Rattana photographs, 40–45. See also United States’ secret bombing Seasons of Migration (Cheam Shapiro), 116–119 Seasons of Migration (John Bishop documentary), 117 Seng, Theary C., 95–96 serpent princess (Neang Neak): as boramey (wise and virtuous spirits), 119–120, Plate 27; diasporic representations of, 116–119; and fashion design, 107–109, Plate 25; and the makara (mythical crocodile) dance, 115; and matrilineality, 11, 103, 107, 109, 124, 149n21; as Mera, 104–105; mother of the nation, 8, 10, 103, 118–121; and Nokor Kok Thlok myth, 104–105; Sam Satya performance of, Plate 26; statue at Siem Reap, 119, Plate 27; and wedding rituals, 8, 10–12, 103, 104, 107, 108 serpents: in dance dramas, 113–116; in fashion design, 107–109, Plate 25; female (nagi), 120; in Heavy Skirt series, 49–50, Plate 9; with king, 105–106, Plates 23–24; and trauma in
Index : 167 visual culture, 9, 121–122; with Vishnu, 28–29, 106, 121, Plates 28–29 sexuality: female, 22–23; gay, 99–102, Plate 21 sex workers’ protests, 101 Shapiro, John, 116 Shaw, Martin, 6 Shawcross, William, 57 Shiva, 104, 106 Sihanouk, Norodom. See Norodom Sihanouk Sisowath Kossamak Neariroth (Queen), 29, 84, 110–113 Sleuk Rith Institute, 86 Sleuk riths (dried sugar palm leaves), 86 snarm. See scars/traces (snarm) Snarm (Oeur poem), 37, 128 Snarm #6, 54–56, Plate 11 social class: and court dance, 103, 116; and Khmer Rouge agrarianism, 2, 30, 59–60, 62, 64, 77, 103; and the krama, 83–84 “The Sociology of Knowledge and Its Consciousness” (Adorno), 5–6 Son Ngoc Minh, 90, 92 Sotheara Chhim, 10, 13, 15–16, 19, 23, 34–35, 127 “Sugar Palm” restaurants, 86 sugar palm trees (Borassus flabellifer), 10, 81, 85–87, Plate 15 suicide, 51, 85, 123, 144n8 surveillance panoptic, 59–61, 65, 68 survivor guilt in Suspended, 26–27 Suryavarman II, King, and serpent, 105–106, Plates 23–24 Suspended (Sanford), 25–27, Plates 4–5 Thang Sothea (Don’t Be Shy graphic artist), 99–100 thlok tree, 104, 107, 109 Touch, Pol (sculptor), 68–69 trauma: collective, 4, 17–18, 34; embodied in art, 13, 16–17; and the female body, 11, 22–23, 90, 124–126; in Freudian psychoanalysis, 9, 13–18, 33–34; inherited, 15, 25–26, 35; irreparable, 16,
21–22, 36, 39, 128; memory and mourning (absence), 20, 25–30, 35, 36, 43; memory inscribed on the body, 18–20, 44–45; and pain, 44, 51; and Rithy Panh, 12, 27–35; and in Sanford works, 20–27; and serpent poison/ remedy, 9, 121–122; temporality of, 20 Tuol Sleng (S-21): Bou Meng in, 61, 68; Im Chan in, 61, 68, 69; photographers, 65, 73, 77, 141n14; prisoner statistics, 5, 67; “seven male survivors” color photo, 67, 68; Vann Nath in, 61, 68. See also Duch Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum: inattention to US bombing, 13, 38; and kamtech, 2; Pol Pot busts and mold, 69–70, 76, Plates 12–14; red footprints, 1, 4, 35, 38, Plate 1 United States’ secret bombing: and Bomb Ponds, 45–50, 85, Plate 6; and Heavy Skirt series, 46–49, Plates 7–9; hidden/ignored scars of, 38–39; political/social implications of, 1–2; and responsibility for genocide, 37–39, 71; visual traces, impacts and responsibility, 37–39 Vandy Rattana (Bomb Ponds photographer), 40–45, 85, Plate 6 Vann Nath (painter), 61, 68, 74–76, 77, 78, Plates 13–14 Vietnam-Cambodia relations, 56, 90–91, 94–96 Vietnamese-Khmer bicultural ethnicity, 90–96, Plates 19–20 Vietnam War, photography and film, 41 Vishnu, with serpents, 106, 121, Plates 28–29 visual culture: French colonial influences, 11, 103, 110–113, 125–126; and the LGBTQ1 community, 99–102, Plate 21; as memorial to the dead (haunting memories), 36; and national identity, 95–96; and trauma containment for resilience, xii. See also dance-drama;
168 : Index film/filmmaking; installations; the krama; photography; Pol Pot portraits visual markers: of ethnic identity, 80, 91, 96, 101, 103, 121. See also the krama; serpent princess (Neang Neak); sugar palm trees
weddings, and the ramvong (circle dance), 23 Williams, Raymond, 64 “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (Benjamin), 30–31, 77–78
wedding rituals, and serpent princess (Neang Neak), 8, 10–12, 103, 104, 107, 108
You Khin (painter), 87–90, 95, 125–126, Plate 17-1
about the author Boreth Ly is an associate professor of Southeast Asian art history and visual culture at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He coedited with Nora A. Taylor, Modern and Contemporary Art of Southeast Asia (2012). In addition, he has written numerous articles and essays on the arts and films of Southeast Asia and its diaspora. Academically trained as an art historian, Ly employs multidisciplinary methods and theories in his writings, depending on the subject matter. He advocates and nurtures emotional articulacy, recognizing the need to create languages of pain and suffering through the arts as catharsis and healing.
other volumes in the series
Print and Power: Confucianism, Communism, and Buddhism in the Making of Modern Vietnam Shawn Frederick McHale Investing in Miracles: El Shaddai and the Transformation of Popular Catholicism in the Philippines Katherine L. Wiegele Toms and Dees: Transgender Identity and Female Same-Sex Relationships in Thailand Megan J. Sinnott In the Name of Civil Society: From Free Election Movements to People Power in the Philippines Eva-Lotta E. Hedman The Tây Sơn Uprising: Society and Rebellion in Eighteenth-Century Vietnam George Dutton Spreading the Dhamma: Writing, Orality, and Textual Transmission in Buddhist Northern Thailand Daniel M. Veidlinger Art as Politics: Re-Crafting Identities, Tourism, and Power in Tana Toraja, Indonesia Kathleen M. Adams Cambodge: The Cultivation of a Nation, 1860–1945 Penny Edwards How to Behave: Buddhism and Modernity in Colonial Cambodia, 1860–1931 Anne Ruth Hansen
Cult, Culture, and Authority: Princess Liễu Hạnh in Vietnamese History Olga Dror Khmer Women on the Move: Exploring Work and Life in Urban Cambodia Annuska Derks The Anxieties of Mobility: Migration and Tourism in the Indonesian Borderlands Johan A. Lindquist The Binding Tie: Chinese Intergenerational Relations in Modern Singapore Kristina Göransson In Buddha’s Company: Thai Soldiers in the Vietnam War Richard A. Ruth Lục Xì: Prostitution and Venereal Disease in Colonial Hanoi Vũ Trọng Phụng; Translated by Shaun Kingsley Malarney Refiguring Women, Colonialism, and Modernity in Burma Chie Ikeya Natural Potency and Political Power: Forests and State Authority in Contemporary Laos Sarinda Singh The Perfect Business? Anti-Trafficking and the Sex Trade along the Mekong Sverre Molland Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia L. Ayu Saraswati
Potent Landscapes: Place and Mobility in Eastern Indonesia Catherine Allerton Forest of Struggle: Moralities of Remembrance in Upland Cambodia Eve Monique Zucker Sounding Out Heritage: Cultural Politics and the Social Practice of Quan Họ Folk Song in Northern Vietnam Lauren Meeker Caged in on the Outside: Moral Subjectivity, Selfhood, and Islam in Minangkabau, Indonesia Gregory M. Simon Ghosts of the New City: Spirits, Urbanity, and the Ruins of Progress in Chiang Mai Andrew Alan Johnson Essential Trade: Vietnamese Women in a Changing Marketplace Ann Marie Leshkowich Saving Buddhism: The Impermanence of Religion in Colonial Burma Alicia Turner Embodied Nation: Sport, Masculinity, and the Making of Modern Laos Simon Creak The Lost Territories: Thailand’s History of National Humiliation Shane Strate
Forging Islamic Power and Place: The Legacy of Shaykh Dā’ūd bin ‘Abd Allāh al-Faṭānī in Mecca and Southeast Asia Francis R. Bradley The Uprooted: Race, Children, and Imperialism in French Indochina, 1890–1980 Christina Elizabeth Firpo Siam’s New Detectives: Visualizing Crime and Conspiracy in Modern Thailand Samson Lim In Pursuit of Progress: Narratives of Development on a Philippine Island Hannah C. M. Bulloch Imperial Intoxication: Alcohol and the Making of Colonial Indochina Gerard Sasges Familial Properties: Gender, State, and Society in Early Modern Vietnam, 1463–1778 Nhung Tuyet Tran