Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heartless individual

The Conscience of Nhem En documemtary being shown this month at Meta House
S-21 photographer Nhem En showed no remorse for the thousands that died at S-21
At last I got to watch The Conscience of Nhem En. I've been waiting a while to see this Oscar-nominated short documentary that aroused a lot of attention when it was released in 2009. But to be frank, I don't know why. It didn't tell me anything new. The interview with Nhem En simply confirmed what a heartless individual he is, again nothing new, anyone who has followed the antics of this former Khmer Rouge cadre will know that. He was the guy who took a big chunk of the portrait photos as prisoners entered the Tuol Sleng/S-21 prison under the Khmer Rouge during the late 70s, and where most of them met their untimely end. If you believe his own hype, he's the one who has single-handedly brought the Khmer Rouge to the attention of the world through his pictures. That's the sort of pedestal he puts himself on. Delusional in the extreme. But then he has ulterior motives. Money has always been his prime motivating factor and any press is good press as he lays down the groundwork for his own museum in Anlong Veng. Interviews with Chum Mey and Bou Meng, as well as Chim Math, the only female survivor of S-21, were also included in the 26-minute documentary, and of course the face photos of the prisoners who would all perish sooner or later has a haunting quality that will never go away. But did the film warrant the attention it received in the international press, not in my view. Thanks to director Steven Okasaki for putting it out there, as there will be some viewers who never knew about S-21, though I won't be rushing out to buy a copy.
On the way out of Meta House I popped into the art exhibition on the ground floor to look at dual exhibits of painters Thang Sothea and Ben Thynal. I was drawn to the portraits of the latter who has painted people living with sickness and his message is to protect yourself from disease and illness. Can't argue with that.
One of the few survivors, Chim Math, who was transferred to a labour camp and escaped death
One of the face portraits taken by Nhem En and a small band of camp photographers
Living with Sickness portrait by Ben Thynal, a graduate of Phare Ponleu Selpak
Each of the portraits by Ben Thynal can be purchased for $200

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