Working as an art teacher at Chea Sim High School, Khvay Samnang (b. 1982; Svay Rieng Province, Cambodia) was tasked to take ID photos of the students. When they saw the portraits, their immediate reaction was that they looked like prisoners. That gave him the idea for Reminder (2008).
The Cambodian Chinese artist elaborates: “In Phnom Penh, schools don’t bring students to the Tuol Sleng. And we don’t teach that much of Khmer Rouge (KR) history. Each year, there is a ceremony to mark the ‘liberation’ from the KR. But they never feed you the details. It is always about Pol Pot. Nevertheless, when young people think of Tuol Sleng, they will always recall the portraits. As such, there is no need to replicate the Tuol Sleng portraits in Reminder. This is already enough to make people feel about the KR history.”
Visually, Khvay’s portraits are not unlike ID photos shot in other countries. However, the burden of Cambodia’s recent history clearly weighs upon the psyche of the younger generation, however imperfect an idea they may have of the KR reign. Removed from this context, Reminder loses its signifying power.
[ Detailed View / From ‘Reminder’ / Courtesy of Khvay Samnang ]