Beneath the Khmer Rouge veil

 

Exhibit title: A Reporter’s Dangerous Guided Tour through Democratic Kampuchea
9-29 February 2012
Bophana Center, #64 street 200
Phnom Penh

About one year ago I gave the Bophana Center in Phnom Penh digital copies of the color photographs and recorded interviews I made on a rare 1978 reporting trip to Cambodia under the Khmer Rouge.

Founded by Rithy Panh, the extraordinary Cambodian filmmaker, the Bophana Center is the repository of Cambodia’s audio visual history – a perfect home for historic photos that many of us foreign correspondents have stored away. The center organized an exhibit of the photos for the month of February, generously funded by the U.S. Embassy.

The open-air gallery was packed. Cambodians lingered over the photographs of the empty city of Phnom Penh under the Khmer Rouge, of Pol Pot and other leaders, of rural scenes, of an empty Angkor Wat and of soldiers preparing for battle on the eastern front. They pulled on headphones to hear the voices of Pol Pot, Ieng Sary and Ieng Thirith on my recorded interviews.

Surprisingly, I saw Cambodians taking each other’s photographs in front of my large portrait of Pol Pot.  When I asked one young woman why, she answered that she had never seen a photograph of Pol Pot before and that some of the young people questioned whether he existed. I couldn’t have been happier to see my thirty year old photographs and recordings boost interest in discovering the history of that unspeakable time.

The response was so great, Bophana Center stayed open on Sunday to accommodate the crowds. The photographs and recordings will remain part of Bophana’s permanent collection.

Elizabeth Becker is the author of When the War Was Over: Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Revolution.