Many young people know the story of Khmer Rouge. The Cambodian genocide era has been told time and time again by the forefathers, letting everyone remember how life was during Pol Pot’s regime. But the stories of forced marriages during that part of history has quite been left untold; when in fact, hundreds of thousands of men and women were forced to marry for the sole purpose of boosting the population.
“When there is a marriage ceremony, we expect it to be happy. Marriage is supposed to be about happiness. But during Khmer Rouge, people were forced to marry somebody they do not know. They were not happy. They were scared,” says Chum Mab.
Mr Mab, 25, was born several years after the nation’s Year Zero. But even without personally experiencing the hardships during the Khmer Rouge, Mr Mab understands the pain of his forefathers.
To help his fellow youth take a full grasp of the impacts of forced marriages decades ago, Mr Mab teamed up with some young artists for an art exhibit.
At the lobby of the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, five artworks took the spotlight.
Each artwork bears different meanings, but all centered in the struggles brought about by forced marriages of the Khmer Rouge.
Mr Mab’s artwork hangs on a white wall. He filled a white canvass with a collage of news clippings about Khmer Rouge, stainless wires shaped into skulls and rice panicles. But his artwork, named “Red Recall”, is highlighted by an image of a man and a woman shaped from thin wires.
“That man and woman represents the people forced into marriages. Their hearts are broken. The red scarf they are wearing symbolizes the blood of the victims of the Khmer Rouge,” says the young artist.
Mr Mab admitted that his own parents were forced into marriage. “But luckily they like each other.”
In another white wall placed across Mr Mab’s Red Recall artwork, a big painting depicting a woman tells another story of the sufferings during Year Zero.
Painted by Sang Nan, “Woman and Memories”, shows a woman in red scarf. Her eyes are close, probably because she prefers not to see any more pain.
The woman’s face bears different images of the brutality of Pol Pot and his men. The images show how the regime abused and killed those who tried to go against the marriages the government set.
“I want people to understand the story. The women are forced to marry men and were then sent to farms to work hard. It was very cruel. This painting shows what happened during that time,” says 31-year old Mr Nan.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in this country in the years to come, but I do not want another episode of Khmer Rouge. I don’t want to see more conflicts and war,” he added, noting that he hopes his artwork would help people acknowledge history and try not to repeat it.
Aside from the “Red Recall” and “Woman and Memories”, Bophana Center also showcased the artworks of Hav Bakkhorn (That Time), Choeung Karot (Untitled) and Eng Rithchandaneth (Black Sesame).
These artists, who seem so young to truly fathom the agonies of the past, have pledged to use their passion and talents for arts to bridge the gap between Cambodia’s tragic history and today’s generation.