Sunday, September 30, 2012

Royal Rock

Not that this blog is a gig list for music in Phnom Penh, cuz it definitely ain't, but the Cambodian Space Project will be playing for your pleasure at Equinox (St 278) on Friday 26 October with its Kingdom of Sound show, dedicated to the '60's golden era of Cambodian psychedelic rock and the films of His Royal Highness Norodom Sihanouk.You've been warned.

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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Get me home

David Booth (right) faces the press for one last time after last night's 6-0 defeat
I won't rush back to Dushanbe in Tajikistan, that's for sure. Not impressed with the city, the hotel, the people, the football, pretty much everything. It doesn't help when you get tonked 8-0 and then 6-0 of course. That tends to cast a long shadow over everything. The team held their end up for the first half against the home team last night but failed to stem the flow of goals after the break and we're heading back with our tails firmly between our legs in a couple of hours. We had to kill time the whole day today and will now fly through the night and all next day, with two stop-overs in China. Not looking forward to that at all. Coming out was bad enough though at least we had something to look forward to. Now its a case of getting home asap. Last night was David Booth's final game in charge of the team. And it certainly wasn't the way he wanted to end his stint at Phnom Penh Crown, that's for sure. However, its done now, I hope the younger players have learnt a few lessons which will make them stronger players in the future, though I have my doubts. The club will need to make some big decisions over the next few weeks about our future direction and the fall-out from this season and this AFC President's Cup trip could be far-reaching.

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Friday, September 28, 2012

Failed to impress


A stone face from ancient Tajikistan, in the grounds of the National Museum
To break the hotel room boredom, I made another attempt to visit the National Museum of Antiquities of Tajikistan this morning. And hey presto, I managed to get in. They had to open it up for me, it doesn't look like they get many visitors, and an old lady with a limp accompanied me, turning on the lights and then off again as I left each room, in the two-storey building. I had to help her up the stairs. As far as museums go, it wasn't anywhere near the standard of exhibits we have in the National Museum in Phnom Penh for example. Not by a very long chalk. The country has many Stone Age to Middle Age archaeological sites but it would appear nothing substantial has made it to the museum. Even their prize exhibit, a 13-metre reclining Buddha was mainly new clay with a hand and one eye being the original pieces. It cost me 20 somoni (the local currency) to get in, that's about $4 - they must've seen me coming. The museum is the prime tourist attraction in Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan, heaven help them. Everything I've seen here has failed to impress me. Full stop.
The National Museum of Antiquities in Dushanbe

A two headed figure at the museum

The only pieces that can be photographed are outside the museum

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Opening party

This coming Saturday, while I'll still be in Tajikistan, you have the unique opportunity to watch the Cambodian Space Project rock the house at Shop 29 in The Golden Sorya Mall on the occasion of lead singer Srey Thy's opening party of her new shop, Sticky Fingers Art Prints. It all kicks off at 8pm with a set or two of live music from the band and DJs to mark this special occasion. SF will sell vinyl records as well as limited edition screen prints and t-shirts.
If you blinked you would've missed a flying visit from both The Like Me's and Dengue Fever in the last week or so, both bands were in town to do some promotion and a documentary respectively, but it was all pretty hush hush, certainly from Dengue Fever's perspective, though they did manage a live show at the Stung Meanchey dumpsite for the kids.

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Limp-wristed

Crown coach David Booth at the post-match press conference
Ouch! That hurt, big-time. To lose was bad enough but to get stuffed out of sight by Dordoi was a massive blow to everyone's confidence. We thought we had a chance against a team who played the long-ball, working on the percentages game but we were sadly mistaken. We conceded two early goals and after a couple of decisions didn't go our way, heads dropped after the break and our goalkeeper got backache from picking the ball out of the net so often. Dordoi had 17 shots on goal, they scored eight and our keeper, Seiha pulled off blinding saves to stop the others. We had not one serious shot on goal. I thought the referee didn't help when he failed to follow the letter of the law and dismiss their last-man defender who pulled back our striker, he didn't even caution him. Then he dished out a yellow for a blatant hack on Rady by their winger, when the ball was the last thing on his mind and it should've been a red. But that's clutching at straws. We were rogered good and proper. How we respond in our second and final match tomorrow, against the home team favourites, will show exactly who has the balls to stand up and be counted. I'm a sore loser at the best of times, and I really don't want to sit through another limp-wristed performance like that one again. Our coach David Booth was inconsolable and let rip at the after-match press conference. He's a passionate football man and cannot accept a capitulation of the type he witnessed last night. Tomorrow is his last game in charge of the team. I fear he is in for another rough ride.

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Non-sightseeing tour

Ismail Samani, founding father of the Tajik nation
Am I jinxed? This afternoon was free so I thought I'd take a stroll to unlock the tourist secrets of Dushanbe, the capital of Tajikistan. Fat chance of that. I had a sneak peek at the Lonely Planet pages for the city and it revealed there were two museums worth investigating and that was about it, except for the odd statue/monument and bazaar. Not known for my shopping instincts, I refrained from the latter and headed to the former. The Bekhzod Museum was fifty yards from the front door of our hotel but the doors were firmly padlocked and not a sign of life. The museums are supposed to be closed on Mondays only and this was Tuesday afternoon. So something was amiss. I turned on my heels and headed up the tree-lined boulevard known as Rudaki, seeking out the prize tourist attraction of the National Museum of Antiquities. I found it easily enough but again the gate and front doors were locked and no-one about to ask why the darn thing wasn't open. Now this is getting silly. Undeterred, I headed north on Rudaki so I could get the large statue of Ismail Samani in my viewfinder, regarded as the father of the Tajik nation. A policeman offered to take a photo of me and the statue and then, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, asked for cash as he had done me a favour. I told him I was a cash-starved tourist and walked away with his refrain, "mister, mister" ringing in my ears. Policemen asking for cash is all-too familiar for someone living in Cambodia, so I wasn't going to jump on that particular merry-go-round. A quick look at a few buildings and fountains but with my afternoon stroll plans in tatters, I decided to head back to the hotel and cut my losses. Plus there's bugger all else to see in Dushanbe. I don't recommend you add it to your 'must-see' list anytime soon.
Myself and Ismail Samani
The current Tajik president doing a stint in the fields, in a suit

The Anyi Opera and Ballet Theatre

Nice classical building opposite the Samani statue, home to the Foreign Ministry

The Firdausi National Library - closed, like everything else

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Monday, September 24, 2012

The latest from Dushanbe

Our view of this afternoon's opening match
You can keep up to date with Phnom Penh Crown in Tajikistan at my football blog http://cambodiafootball.blogspot.com/ if you need your football fix. This afternoon was the opening game of the six-team competition. The home team, Istiklol from Dushanbe met their next-door-country rivals Dordoi from Kyrgyzstan, and ran out comfortable 2-0 winners, even though they played most of the 2nd half with 10-men. The Crown squad watched the game from the stands amongst the crowd of just over 5,000. The hosts had expected more than double that but the price of the tickets apparently put many people off coming. The game was also shown live on Tajik television. Both teams were big and strong, much taller than the average height of our Cambodian players, so they already have an advantage, though their style of football was pretty much route 1 stuff, which the Crown defenders will have to cope with, despite the absence of their Nigerian strongman, Tony Obadin, who is back in Cambodia after being sent home by the Chinese authorities. Crown play against Dordoi on Wednesday and after this defeat, let's hope the Kyrgz team remain down in the dumps. The Crown team will train on the stadium pitch on Tuesday night under floodlights to get accustomed to the surface and then face their biggest test against a team they met and lost to in Phnom Penh back in May's qualifying competition.

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Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sour taste

The Crown squad before we left Phnom Penh, and before Tony was sent home from China - click to enlarge
Apologies for being absent without leave. All of Saturday was spent flying from Cambodia across a very unwelcoming China to Tajikistan (its next to Afghanistan if you need to know where it is), and then today, I've been at meetings for most of the day, ahead of an important Asian club football competition that my team, Phnom Penh Crown, are involved in. They are the reason I'm in this former Soviet-bloc country, that still feels very Russian, with police stopping our car every time we venture out. It's got trams, very wide boulevards and its population are majority Muslims, though I've yet to see a mosque. There are massive structures, a palace for this, a monument for that, all of which we are told are new. The flight over was a real downer though. We flew from Phnom Penh into Guangzhou and immediately felt the cold blast of Chinese officialdom. One of our best players, Tony Obadin, was singled out for particular attention, carted off for investigation and after an hour of not knowing what was happening, he was escorted to collect his bags, say his goodbyes and was duly despatched back home on the next flight out. Our players were completely non-plussed. The attitude of the officials at Guangzhou left a very sour taste in the mouth. Over five hours later, we arrived in Urumqi, which was marginally more friendly, before we headed for our third flight of the day, to Dushanbe, our final destination, the capital of Tajikistan and a throw-back to the communist era. Essentially a full day travelling. This morning we joined the competition's press conference, for the head coaches of the six participating teams to offer their insights into the upcoming matches. Then it was back to the hotel, the five-star Serena Hotel but service-wise, two-to-three-star at best, for lunch before another meeting, for team manager's, to check on playing colours and to go over the rules and regulations. This afternoon, the bus failed to arrive to take the team for training, until we commandeered another bus after waiting 90 minutes, just so we could get the jetlag out of our bones. We endured a few similar mind-games in last year's competition in Taiwan, lets hope we don't go through any more of the same this time around.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Tropical minimal style

This two-roomed suite has an interesting walkthrough
I made a return visit to Arun Villa in BKK1 area today, having made a previous visit whilst this brand new boutique property was still under construction. The 12-room hotel has been open for a couple of weeks now and the owners are using this month to iron out any small kinks and to train their staff. They know a thing or two about the hotel business, already running Terres Rouge very successfully in Banlung, Ratanakiri for quite a few years, as well as Rajabori Villas on Koh Trong, the island opposite Kratie on the Mekong River. Now they feel is the right time to open a branch in Phnom Penh. Their particular style, what they call tropical minimal, includes lots of locally-sourced period furniture, granite-styled bathrooms with an 8x4 swimming pool and a bar-cum-snack area. Each spacious room (six deluxe and six larger suites) has some gorgeous objet d'art thrown in for good measure and the hotel is located on a quiet street near the BKK market. A welcome addition to the boutique accommodation roster in the capital.
This room was infused with Chinese influences

Wooden totem imported from Ratanakiri and usually seen in a minority village cemetery

I couldn't find out where these masks in one of the rooms originally came from

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Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Circus is a-coming

Putho performed in Battambang in July 2010
The circus is coming to town. No big-top but instead the youngsters from Battambang's Phare Ponleu Selpak will be bringing their own brand of circus and theatre to the Beeline Arena in Phnom Penh on Saturday 29 September. The show, Putho!, is what they call a metaphorical show about relationships between teenagers, love and tenderness depicted through acrobatics, lifts, juggling, dance, balancing and contortion. Thirteen young circus artists will present the show, which has already had three tours in Europe, beginning at 6pm, with tickets costing $3.50 from Monument Books, with a new circus show planned for each month in the capital. PPS are also planning to open a big top, quite literally, in Siem Reap sometime next year. I saw the show on a visit to Battambang in July 2010 and its definitely worth making the effort to get along to Beeline to see this performance. You can keep up to date with PPS at their website. I've also just heard that circus performers from Cambodia, Vietnam and Laos will be strutting their stuff for three evenings, from 5pm, on 27/28/29 September at the performing arts center in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. A 1,000 seat theater has been created especially for these performances, with tickets at 15K Riel each.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

At the top

The view from top of the Baphuon looking towards the eastern entrance
The top of the Baphuon at Angkor is 43 metres high. To see the best of the narrative panels depicting animals, legends, gods and demons you have to take the steep steps to get to the summit. Once you are there, you have a great view over Angkor. Here are a few more of the panels to be seen now that the temple has finally reopened to the public again after completion of the world's largest jigsaw puzzle.
A scene from the Ramayana with Ravana's chariot being pulled by creatures with demon heads

Two warriors comforting a distraught or injured monkey at the north gate

Another Ramayana scene with Sita under the tree meeting Hanuman, the monkey king
This is a view of the panels at the east gate; a series of 4 registers of narrative panels

This panel shows Bishma dying on a bed of arrows

A battle scene in full flow from the Battle of Kurukshetra

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Talking football

Sonneat, Sokpheary and myself after the interview this morning
I won't be able to watch myself in action as I'll be in the air, on my way to Tajikistan, when the interview that we filmed this morning, will be shown on the Cambodian News Channel this coming Saturday. Sports presenter Sokpheary and her cameraman Sonneat came to my office early doors to film an interview focusing on Phnom Penh Crown and the AFC President's Cup. They only have a 15-minute segment, though the interview easily lasted 45 minutes. A bunch of questions from Sokpheary, crisp answers from myself and Rumnea, off-camera, translating my responses into Khmer. It went swimmingly well. They will also try to get some footage of  the team training this week and if they can make it in time, they'll see us off at the airport on Saturday morning. The segment will be shown on the CNC Sports Corner programme on Saturday 22 September between 6-7pm.
My view of proceedings with Rumnea (left) translating Sokpheary's questions and my answers

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Picturebooks in stone

Men trying to capture two boars in the forest on the south gate of Baphuon
Today we return to the renovated Baphuon temple in the Angkor Park, the 11th century temple reopened again in 2011, for a look at a few more of the narrative panels that have been out of public view since the 1960s. Climb the steep stairway to the second enclosure of the main temple and you will be rewarded with richly decorated mythological scenes of Hindu inspiration, many of which are unique to this temple. They are well worth seeking out in some of the nooks and crannies.
A dying Rishi is cared for as his colleague captures the suspect bull, at the south gate

At the south gate, a Rishi is fighting a boar with a spear

A popular scene, showing Krishna subduing the naga Kaliya on the south gate

Two men capturing birds in the forest. One man is carrying three birds whilst a small mammal climbs the tree to escape

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Sunday, September 16, 2012

MOLM on sale

The Map of Lost Memories on sale at Monument Books
Monument Books carry the best selection of books on Cambodia bar none. They have also just received the paperback edition of the fantastic debut novel from Kim Fay, The Map of Lost Memories, selling at just under $20. An absolute bargain for an adventure novel that takes place in 1925 and travels from Shanghai to Saigon to the Cambodian jungle, as a young American woman hunts for a lost Khmer treasure. I've read it, it is brilliant and I recommend you buy it. Monument Books have outlets on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh, in Siem Reap and at the airports.

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Saturday, September 15, 2012

Working together

Amrita and Epic Arts join forces
Amrita and Epic Arts from Kampot are working together to produce a contemporary dance workshop piece that they will show to the public in Kampot on Tuesday of next week and then in Phnom Penh, the following Saturday (22 Sept). The PP show will be at the department of performing arts, behind Spark, at 6.30pm, though seats are limited. The performance will include two Amrita dancers and four hearing-impaired artists from Epic Arts. I think its a great idea to collaborate in such a way, showing the Cambodian audience that people with disability can play an equal part in the arts, alongside able-bodied performers. This makes great strides in breaking down barriers for the disabled.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Restricted viewing

The accessibility of watching high quality classical dance performances is something that has rankled with me for a long while. The availability of such performances in Phnom Penh is annoyingly limited considering we have the national royal ballet on our doorstep, dancers who train for many years to perfect and hone their unique skills, but who more often display their talents overseas than they do at home. And when a performance of the national classical ballet troupe does take place, then the dance fraternity close ranks and few of the shows are made available to the general public. The Cambodian Living Arts team will open that closed door wider when they begin their six nights a week dance shows at the National Museum from 25 October, which will include both classical and traditional folk routines. Another important group offering a glimpse into the art of classical dance is the private touring group at Khmer Arts Ensemble. From time to time they throw open their doors and perform for public viewing. One such event will be held on Saturday 29 September at their own arts theater in Takhmao. As part of the Our City Festival, the premiere full-length performance of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro's Munkul Lokey will be performed - having only previously been shown in New York and Indonesia - with a free shuttle bus service on offer, on a first come first served basis. Call them on 023-425-780. The Ensemble team, under the tutelage of Sophiline Cheam Shapiro rank amongst the best dancers of their generation and often send their touring troupe to the USA to perform.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

24 hour music

Phnom Penh's 1st 24 hour music radio station is heading your way very soon. 1 October is the official launch date and they are currently on air testing, tuning and training in the mornings on FM89.0. The name to look and listen out for is NRG Radio and you can catch them online as well, here, just look out for the logo. NRG will launch primarily as a music station with a limited number of newsbreaks, interviews and special features. Over time the broadcast schedule will be come more complex with added commentaries, reviews, live performances and other features that will raise the bar at NRG. Stay tuned.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The next laugh

The Cambodia Comedy Club is hurtling its way back to a stage near us in just a couple of weeks, Tuesday 25 September to be precise, at Pontoon as usual. It kicks-off at 8.30pm (and costs $8) though it's usually late for one reason or another. The two stand-up comedians booked for this latest gig are UK-based Aussie Ro Campbell, who has performed at the last six Edinburgh Fringe festivals, and Rishi Budhrani, one of Singapore fresh young comics. I'll be in Central Asia, Tajikistan in fact, having fun all of my own, so won't be around for this particular edition.

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Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fight scenes

A battle scene with a very large monkey dominating the panel
A few more of the decorative panels that adorn the second tier of the 11th-century Baphuon temple in Angkor, showing various fighting scenes. There are four restored gates that house these unique panels and the recently re-opened temple is allowing visitors to see these as well as the renovated east and west gates that have devata maidens and dvarapala guardian figures, as well as small panels showing various animals.
This may be more of an attempt to control a horse than a fight scene

A group of warriors on their way to war

Another battle scene, set in a forest with small creature climbing the tree to escape

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Demolition Party

La Croisette on the riverside in Phnom Penh is due for renovation. To help get it started, there's a demolition party arranged for this coming Saturday (15 September) with easily the best space cadets in town, the Cambodian Space Project due on stage at around 9.30pm. It's not a big venue so get yourself there early. It's a double-header with Bum N Draze, who will follow Srey Thy and the boys late into the night. The grapevine tells me they aren't the only headliners in town with Laura Mam from The Like Me's popping back, with the rest of the group following on very soon, and developing a massive online following amongst Cambodian youths. I saw this spoof trailer on YouTube for a film made by a fan and its pretty swish. And that's just the tip of the iceberg.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

A remarkable man

An autographed photo of Haing S Ngor and his Oscar
A look at the life of Haing S. Ngor, the physician, actor and author who drew upon his four-year internment under the Khmer Rouge to create an Oscar-winning performance in The Killing Fields, is the subject of a new documentary that is in the works and scheduled for a 2014 release. Filmmaker Arthur Dong is the man with the task of bringing the story of this remarkable individual to life. Ngor portrayed Cambodian journalist and refugee Dith Pran in the film, which was met with widespread critical acclaim and for which the actor said; "I wanted to show the world how deep starvation is in Cambodia, how many people die under communist regime. My heart is satisfied. I have done something perfect." In 1988, he wrote (with Roger Warner) A Cambodian Odyssey, describing his life under the Khmer Rouge. Both the film and the book are essential viewing and reading in my opinion. More on the film here. His untimely and tragic death in 1996 robbed us of a real hero of our time. The following article link by one of Hollywood's best-known critics, takes a look at the time in 1985 when Haing Ngor stepped into the world's spotlight by winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his incredible film portrayal; here.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Mood swings

Taking the applause of the audience. LtoR: Belle, Chenda, Saveth, Phou, Yann and Nimolika

Thoroughly enjoyable is how I would rate tonight's Chenla Theatre performance of the spoken play, known locally as Lakhaon, by director Jean-Baptiste Phou called Cambodia, Here I Am. Phou brought a variety of mood shifts including comedic moments aplenty into play as the four main characters took turns to explain their personal stories on stage, interacting seamlessly with each other, the music, the stage lighting and even the translations on the side-screens, in French and English. This in particular, helped make the play much more accessible to the large expat audience, though the performance itself was in Khmer throughout. The director included many pertinent, and current, themes in the dialogue and didn't hold back with a few home truths, which gave the play considerable relevance. The addition of one of the country's best loved actresses, Dy Saveth, gave the show a major headline name though her three co-stars were of equal importance and did a perfect job in making the whole performance come together so successfully. Yim Nimolika, Pumtheara Chenda (also highly regarded for her classical and contemporary dance skills) and Kauv Ly Yann are to be congratulated for their true to life characterizations. Plays of this quality are few and far between.
Pumtheara Chenda (red) and Dy Saveth in a scene from the play

One of Cambodia's finest actresses, Dy Saveth

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Friday, September 7, 2012

Decorative panels aplenty

On the east gate, Shiva and Arjuna are both shooting arrows at a boar, the demon Muka
The Baphuon, often called the world's biggest jigsaw puzzle, is now welcoming visitors once again inside the ancient city of Angkor Thom in Siem Reap, after being closed to the public since the 1960s, when the EFEO experts decided to take it apart, piece by piece. Unfortunately, work on its restoration had to be abandoned in the 1970s and it wasn't until 1995 that EFEO resumed their work. The temple was finally reopened in the spring of 2011 revealing unique mythological scenes decorating the gates of the temple, particularly the second level, that have not been seen for decades. Much of the Baphuon dates from the middle of the 11th century though additions were made in later years. The decorative panels tell many stories and the Baphuon was the first temple to carry these narratives from the Ramayana and others. To reach these extraordinary panels, the steps to the 2nd enclosure are pretty steep so be prepared. And whenever you encounter an entranceway (gopura), keep your eyes peeled for the finely carved panels which are often overlooked by most visitors. I've waited a long time to visit the Baphuon and I wasn't disappointed. I'll post a few of these panels with brief explanations to identify some of the characters over the course of the next few days.
In a scene from the Ramayana, Rama is on the chariot Pushpaka on his way back to Ayodhya

The figure on the left is Krishna and this is a scene from his youth when babies were exchanged, on the right

More decorative panels on the 2nd enclosure alongwith a decorative tourist, Rumnea

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

His paintings speak for him

March 2008. Vann Nath, translator Priya and myself, holding the camera for a documentary shoot at S-21
A year ago, artist Vann Nath passed away. Lest we never forget this kind and gentle man.
The following is an obituary from The Economist published on 17 September last year.

When he was 52, with a hand that still trembled, Vann Nath produced a painting of a young man lying under a blossoming tree. He was playing a pipe while, in the background, cattle grazed by green palms in some bucolic corner of Cambodia. It was meant to be a self-portrait, he said, a beautiful memory from his childhood. He wanted only to paint idyllic landscapes now, in the style of temple murals or the French Impressionists who had first inspired him to take up art.
That was because, in 1978-79, he had been made to paint quite different pictures. In those months he was interned in S-21 prison, a former French lycee in Phnom Penh which had been converted into a torture-compound for alleged enemies of the Khmer Rouge regime. Perhaps 14,000 people were sent to S-21 for a daily routine of electrocution, water-boarding and flagellation before being carted off for execution—a shovel or spade to the head—at the nearby “killing fields”. Mr Vann Nath was one of only six or seven prisoners to make it out alive.
He never expected to. Like almost all the others, he had no idea why he had been sent there. He was not an intellectual; his family was poor and provincial, and he just a painter in a small business making signs and billboards. In 1975, obedient to the Khmer Rouges, he had joined a peasant commune and worked hard there. When he first saw the wasted prisoners in S-21, he thought it was all over for him. But after withering away for a month, fed so sparely on rice gruel that he felt an urge to consume the flesh of the dead, he was asked to paint portraits of the regime's leader, Pol Pot.
At first he thought he could not do it. The shocks and beatings meant that he could barely stand. Besides, he had no idea what Pol Pot looked like, and only a black-and-white photograph to copy. All the time he painted, day and night, the screams of the tortured echoed from other rooms. He hoped, with every brush-stroke, that his jailers would like his work and let him live. He focused by thinking how much he would like to kill the man he drew.
Nonetheless, he carried out the task to the satisfaction of Duch, the prison commandant, the one—and still only—former cadre now being held to account for his role in the revolution. For his flattering portraits, giving Pol Pot a fresh-faced girl's rosy cheeks, Mr Vann Nath's name in the prison ledger was tagged “Keep for use”. But for that “keeping”, he often said, he would be dead.
When a Vietnamese invasion swept the Khmers Rouges from power, in January 1979, his portrait-painting ended. But in 1980-81 an even more harrowing spell of art began. The fleeing warders of S-21 left behind troves of documents outlining the prison's work, but it was Mr Vann Nath, painting his memories in sombre oils, who showed most vividly what had happened there. Blindfolded men, women and children trucked into the compound in the middle of the night. Men carried, trussed like pigs, on bamboo poles. Babies torn from their mothers' arms—to be smashed against walls, he learned later. Prisoners prodded, whipped and steered by stone-faced cadres into holding cells to be crammed side by side, like decaying logs. For many years after the Khmer Rouges fell from power, the upper echelons of the regime denied S-21's existence. Mr Vann Nath caught its reality in furtive glances, as he moved from cell to workshop.
He painted by stilling his mind, in a process both painful and therapeutic. But painting still made no sense of what he had seen. It seemed to him that Cambodia could not cleanse itself of such an evil, and that his works were not good enough to do such horror justice. He only hoped the souls of those who had died would get some ease from them.
When S-21 was turned into a museum of the national self-genocide he had witnessed, some of his pictures hung on the walls. One day, for the first time since 1979, he saw one of his former jailers there, a “tiger” he had dreaded. Having puffed a few cigarettes to steel himself—for he was always a man of poise, despite his tormented past—he approached him affably and guided him by the shoulder to his paintings hanging there. “Is this accurate?” he asked. It was, the jailer conceded.
The international media, whose questions about S-21 he patiently answered time after time, called him Cambodia's Goya. He brushed it off. His principal fear was that young Cambodians would not learn about—or, worse still, would not believe—what he had witnessed. He painted, he said, so that Cambodia would never turn on itself so monstrously again.

Two years ago Mr Vann Nath took the stand as a witness against Duch, his former master, who is now appealing a 35-year jail sentence handed down by a UN-backed war-crimes court in Cambodia. A second trial, of four senior leaders of the regime, is not expected to start until next year. The defendants say they are too ill to stand trial. They are attended, however, by a world-class team of doctors; Mr Vann Nath, who suffered years of kidney disease, struggled to afford even basic care. His testimony will be missing from subsequent proceedings. His paintings, however, speak for him.
A self portrait of Vann Nath during his S-21 incarceration

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