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Images from Cambodia: myth, history and contemporary art

Project leader: Patrick Nardin

40 years after a genocide which left a devastated society, it is necessary to express the legacy and creativity of a country which experienced mass extermination and destruction of an artistic community, through cultural and scientific events. Cambodia’s political, cultural and economic reconstruction is difficult; in its dramatic context, artists played an essential role particularly by passing on traditional arts to the new generation. But Cambodian young artists are looking for renewal: by questioning the past, they now seek to understand the complexity of our time and taking up the challenges of globalization.

The "Cambodian identity" is constructed between two extremes: on one hand the splendor of Angkor, on the other the horrific Khmer Rouge years. In this inbetween, the balance is uncertain and fragile. If Cambodia haunts contemporary imaginations, particularly Angkor which is not only an archeological relic but also an active myth supporting literary and cinema creation since the 19th century, the effects of years of terror have shaped society: widespread corruption, lack of solidarity or rupture between generations, quest for easy money and financial satisfaction, at the cost of cultural and social needs.

All symbolic guarantees were smashed into pieces by the genocide.Forced oblivion, in the name of reconciliation and national unity, presents an almost untroubled past. No images of the slaughters, no evidence or just a few memories recalled by witnesses, this is what encourages us to question the possibility to pass on the unspeakable. In order to understand what is at stake, we will successively question myths and legacies of Angkor’s ruins, memory processes as well as new visual forms that are now created in Cambodia.


Photo credit: Pierre-Paul Frick

Labex Arts-H2H

The Laboratory of Excellence in Arts and Human Mediations is part of the “Investments for the future” program since 2011. As part of this program, its members conduct research following three main lines: situations, technologies, hybridization.

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