News / Asia

    Cambodian Painter Used Art to Show Khmer Rouge Brutality

    Vann Nath is seen at Tuol Sleng genocide museum, formerly Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 9, 2011.
    Vann Nath is seen at Tuol Sleng genocide museum, formerly Khmer Rouge's notorious S-21 prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, August 9, 2011.

    Multimedia

    Audio

    Funeral preparations are underway for one of the most famous survivors of the brutal Khmer Rouge government. Cambodian painter Vann Nath passed away Monday after a long illness. He was 66 years old.

    Vann Nath could easily have been one of the more than 12,000 Cambodians killed at the notorious Khmer Rouge prison, S-21. Instead, his gift of painting served as a gift of life. His jailers spared him to paint portraits of Pol Pot, the Khmer Rouge leader.

    Vann Nath was one of only seven survivors to leave the prison when Vietnamese forces pushed the Khmer Rouge from power in 1979. He spent the rest of his life painting, speaking and writing about the abuses that took place there.

    Youk Chhang, the director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, got to know Vann Nath while collecting evidence for the U.N.-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal.

    “He presented the strength of the Cambodian genocide survivor. He was a witness of history. That is Vann Nath,” Youk Chhang said after learning of the painter's death.

    Listen to Kate's full interview with Youk Chhang:

    In the tribunal's first case, the former prisoner testified against Kaing Kek Euv, or Duch, the S-21 chief who oversaw his torture.

    Youk Chhang said he thinks Vann Nath found a sense of peace by testifying.

    “How can you be silent? Especially when you’ve been dehumanized. More than anything else, as a human being, you want to become a person. I think that’s what Vann Nath wants the most. To become a free man. To become a person.”

    Paintings by human rights icon and artists Vann Nath depicting how torture devices were used hang on the walls of Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 2011.
    Paintings by human rights icon and artists Vann Nath depicting how torture devices were used hang on the walls of Tuol Sleng Prison in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, June 2011.

    Vann Nath’s 1998 memoir, A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge's S-21 Prison, is the only written account by a survivor of the prison. His book and paintings of bloody, tortured scenes from S-21 are visceral reminders of one of the most lethal regimes of the 20th century. Nearly two million people died under the Khmer Rouge, as it purged the population of anyone perceived a threat to its Communist, agrarian utopia.

    Vann Nath’s paintings have helped Cambodians reconstruct their memory in a precise way, so that they can deal with the past, Youk Chhang said.

    “You know, when you talk about justice, you talk about the court. When you talk about prevention, you talk about education, teaching the younger generation. But when it comes to healing, you need art,” he said.

    Vann Nath grew up in Battambang, in northwestern Cambodia. Before being arrested by the Khmer Rouge, he made a living as a sign painter.

    Sopheap Pich, a Cambodian-American artist who left Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge and has since returned to Phnom Penh, said he was proud to have worked with Vann Nath.

    Listen to Kate's full interview with Sopheap Pich:

    “I admire him for his sincerity, his honesty and his sort-of unwavering, I suppose one could say, attitude to not paint things just for the commercial market.”

    That’s a rarity in Cambodia, where markets are filled with replicas of idyllic orange sunsets over green rice fields, traditional dancers and the famed Angkor Wat temple. Pich said Vann Nath was interested in capturing the true light of the day.

    “I remember being in his studio quite recently and he was talking about, ‘Oh I paint this color, I paint this kind of light because I want to express that this took place at 3:00 PM and not 1:00 PM.’ So he was very interested in color and form.  And I think this is where the pleasures of painting that is very much in him,” Pich said.

    As true to the day’s light, Vann Nath was true in his own nature.

    “Publicly and privately he is the same person.  This in one thing I admire about many of the older generation artists of Cambodia," Pich noted. "When you spend time, he’s the same. He’s generous, he’s kind, he’s open, he’s energetic.”

    That energy carries on in Cambodia’s young artists who, Pich said, will paint their own version of Cambodian history.

    Until then, there is still one unfinished chapter. Duch was sentenced to 30 years in prison last year for war crimes and crimes against humanity. But the four surviving Khmer Rouge leaders charged with genocide have yet to go to trial. They are expected to stand before the court next year.

    You May Like

    Russia Sees Brexit Impact Widespread but Temporary

    Officials, citizens react to Britain’s vote to exit European Union with mix of pleasure, understanding and concern

    Obama Encourages Entrepreneurs to Seek Global Interconnection

    President tells entrepreneurs at global summit at Stanford University to find mentors, push ahead with new ideas on day after Britain voters decide to exit EU

    Video Some US Gun Owners Support Gun Control

    Defying the stereotype, Dave Makings says he'd give up his assault rifle for a comprehensive program to reduce gun violence

    This forum has been closed.
    Comments
         
    There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Unchartered Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora