I chose these images, which are on permanent display at the Toul Sleng Genocide Memorial in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, with the purpose of presenting tragedy and in an attempt for me to try to process some of the incomprehensible horror of my adopted country’s chaotic recent past. My choice to digitally manipulate these images on my iPad mini was dictated solely by meager finances and my inability to access photo reproductive and silkscreen materials in a land of limited artistic freedom and widespread fear of reprisal by the government. I started with five black & white photographs by photographers of the Khmer Rouge documentation unit of 70 children, women, and men prisoners and passed the images through multiple filters on five separate applications in order to impart the burnished green and yellow of banana leaves and ashen earth tones of Cambodia’s alluvial dust on the subjects’ faces before proceeding to resize, replicate, and reposition the five original photographs multiple times into a portrait of an era Cambodia would rather forget than address that I hope is simultaneously humanizing and dehumanizing while not drawing attention away from the scale of the human tragedy that took place here little more than one generation ago.
I am pleased if my image is evocative and possibly illustrative of how themes of appropriation and repetition may have been used by Andy Warhol regardless of analysis and interpretation by viewers and critics. Bob Colacello, Warhol’s confidant, collaborator, and editor from 1970 to 1982, says, “Andy created religious art for a secular world.”
The notion that an artwork’s mystery may be more appealing and ultimately more significant than any answers it may provide is particularly interesting to me as someone who lives in Cambodia, a land that actively discourages people from asking any questions or pursuing explanations.
If I have done my job properly, my image and others I have created may cause viewers to consider the unanswerable.