Friday, January 11, 2013

Inspirational witness

Detail from Vann Nath's autobiographical painting of S-21 prisoners
No less than 40 Cambodian and foreign artists, writers and researchers have contributed works to honour Vann Nath, in the Vann Nath Tribute exhibition that opens tomorrow at the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh. Even I was asked to contribute but felt far more people knew him better than I, though I will attend the opening at 6pm to show my support. Vann Nath left us in September 2011 and left a legacy as a talented artist who made it his mission to tell in his paintings what he had witnessed whilst imprisoned at the Khmer Rouge torture center, Tuol Sleng. He testified at the trial of the former S-21 commander Comrade Duch in June 2009. Historian David Handler wrote of Vann Nath; "For over 30 years, Vann Nath was an inspiration, thoughtful witness to a pitch-dark period of Cambodian history. Unlike many survivors of the Khmer Rouge, he was never willing to dig a hole and bury the past. Instead the past lived inside him, every day, and he bore witness to it, courageously but with an accessible, compassionate humanity as well." The exhibition, which runs through til 12 February, will be the first project this year from the Vann Nath's Circle of Friends group, with discussions ongoing with museums about creating an archive of his work so it can be known for its artistic value as well as its historical perspective. Meanwhile, two exibitions have opened at the same time at the Institut Francais in Phnom Penh. Photographer Mireille Vautier concentrates on sculpted details amongst some of the lesser temples like Beng Mealea and how they appear in different light, whilst Thomas Pierre's paintings offer an impressionist style of the monuments. You would be well-advised to visit all three exhibitions.

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