Reflections on Cultural Production and Prospects for Reconciliation in Cambodia

Where is Reconciliation? by Ly Daravuth

In this portfolio, Ly Daravuth, co-founder of the Reyum Institute for Art and Culture and the Reyum Art School in Phnom Penh, inquires into the bleak truth behind "official" statements and acts of peace. Through a lyrical textual refrain and a collection of images from disparate violent events in recent Cambodian history, this portfolio highlights the irony and the danger of superficial acts of justice and reconciliation where what is needed is work that is deep and meaningful. Implicit in Daravuth's portfolio is a warning against superficial and false gestures of reconciliation. It asks: how can such gestures be avoided, resisted, and replaced with more meaningful efforts toward reconciliation and justice? What distinguishes constructive, high-level gestures of peace from hollow, hypocritical gestures that only embody and reinforce harsh realities?

Notes on Pchum Ben by Ly Daravuth

Rather than exploring an intervention purposefully designed to help a troubled community, this photo essay explores an existing cultural-religious ritual and finds within it potential resources for reconciliation. In this piece, Ly Daravuth describes a traditional Khmer Buddhist ritual in which offerings are made to the dead. His striking photographs capture some of the expressive and aesthetic qualities of this ritual-in particular, the in-gathering of distinct elements (rice grains, sand grains, candles, persons) into beautiful and meaningful forms-that are relevant to reconciliation. The interdependent, egalitarian aesthetic of the ritual constructs the possibility of an inclusive experience of mourning. Daravuth suggests that the Pchum Ben ritual can be a symbol of and a step toward healing, mourning, and reconciliation in Cambodia, a country grappling with a long legacy of domination, violence, and genocide.

A PDF of this photo essay may be requested by completing the online publication request form

The Goodness of Lives by Ingrid Muan

About the Fellows

Ly DaravuthLy Daravuth and Ingrid Muan worked as visual artists, art historians and curators. They were Brandeis International Fellows in 2003-2004. Tragically, Ingrid passed away in 2005. They wrote:

For the past five years, we have been working together on a series of art and research projects which culminate in exhibitions and publications. The institutional frame for our work is Reyum, the Institute of Arts and Culture that we established in downtown Phnom Penh in late 1998. In this storefront space, we offer images and texts that we hope open a modest public forum in which those who wish to participate can look, think, discuss, and create. By doing so, we feel that we contribute towards coexistence - if not reconciliation - in Cambodia.

Ingrid Muan

During the Fellowship, they continued to reflect upon the seemingly insurmountable obstacles to reconciliation in Cambodia by documenting events at Reyum and other artistic and cultural explorations into issues of violence, justice and reconciliation. Ingrid did not complete her working paper before her death. We present the partial draft appears as she sent it to us in December 2004.