SHOWCASING the scars etched into their minds, Kim Hak has brought to life the portrait of Khmer Rouge survivors and their tale in his photographic exhibition called “Alive”, now on show at Bophana Centre from August 1-31.
Born in Battambang province, the photographer said it was his family who motivated him to shoot these photos of the survivors’ jewellery, clothing and household objects to share their horror with the public in a palatable format. Nothing quite fell onto his lap as he had to fly to countries like Australia and New Zealand, to meet Cambodian survivors of the Khmer Rouge regime, each with a unique story to tell.
“This is the memory of survivors as nobody ever wish it to happen again (Khmer Rouge regime). They are scarred from the experience. But only from these photos and storytelling can the young generation learn the mistakes of this (civil) war,” said the 38-year-old.
“I spent almost five years doing research, photography and listening to survivor tales. It was not easy as some don’t want to talk about it. I had to persuade them. Thus, the tricky part of my artwork.”
In 2018, with support from the Rei Foundation (in NZ), Mr Hak spent valuable time with 12 Cambodian families in New Zealand, documenting their personal objects that told their journey of how they survived the Khmer Rouge and refugee camps and then resettling far from their homeland.
“I was born two years after Khmer Rouge was destroyed, and was raised in the refugee camp (in Thailand), so I heard people tell different stories during the reign of terror. My family encouraged me to keep these stories for the younger generation,” Mr Hak said.
Mr Hak also composed poems alongside these photos of objects, as evidence of the past.
He added: “Some movies (of Khmer Rouge) have shown the real brutality of the regime and the gory side of it did not draw people out to tell their story. But when I mounted this as photos with poems, it was viewed as a type of art that made them willing and dare to speak out.”
Mr Hak hopes this agonizing memory of the Khmer Rouge will be a lesson well remembered. So that the new generations will not let tragic history be repeated. Eventually, Mr Hak wants to publish a book on his artwork for posterity. – by Srey Kumneth