We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

A wall with victims pictured at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Cambodia C3634 Friso Gentsch/PA
Khmer Rouge

Irish artist criticised in Cambodia for adding smiles to colourised images of genocide victims

The images appeared in a Vice article last weekend.

AN IRISH ARTIST has been criticised for adding smiles to colourised images of people who were killed during Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge genocide in the late 1970s.

Artist Matt Loughrey has colourised several black and white photos of victims of the genocide as part of a personal project, which has become the subject of a backlash after he added smiles to some of those killed.

The ultra-Maoist leader Pol Pot presided over a reign of terror in the country from 1975 to 1979 that left an estimated two million Cambodians dead from starvation, hard labour, torture and mass executions.

The brutal regime took photographs of thousands of its victims, including those sent to Tuol Sleng or S-21, a former high school which was converted into a prison.

An estimated 15,000 people were interrogated and tortured there before being put to death in a neighbouring field.

A selection of the images and an interview with Loughrey was published on Vice over the weekend, attracting a torrent of criticism within Cambodia and on social media.

“I’m talking with the museum about making these photos accessible to everybody,” the artist said, adding that the project had seen a “superb response” so far.

The article was subsequently pulled from the website on Sunday afternoon. Earlier, Vice added a disclaimer to the article before it was removed.

“It has been brought to our attention that the restored portraits published in this article were modified beyond colorisation. We are reviewing the article and considering further actions to correct the record,” Vice said in an editor’s note.

Norng Chan Phal, a S-21 survivor who lost parents at the prison, characterised the project as “an insult to the victims of Khmer Rouge”.

“I strongly condemn these colourised pictures because all victims at S-21 were never happy,” the 52 year-old told the AFP news agency.

“We the victims who entered S-21 never had a chance to smile. I don’t support any changes to the pictures. We were suffering.”

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts said it considered Loughrey’s manipulation of the images to “seriously affect the dignity of the victims” as well as the reality of the country’s history.

It said the Loughrey’s project also violated the rights of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Musuem as the lawful owners and custodians of the images.

The ministry called for Loughrey and Vice to remove the doctored pictures.

“(The ministry) will consider to take legal action (both national and international) if Matt Loughrey does not comply with the above request,” the ministry said in a statement.

Hun Many, a Cambodian lawmaker and youngest son of the country’s leader Hun Sen said he was shocked to see the doctored images.

“It clearly shows that those individuals, especially foreigners do not understand the painful tragedy of the Cambodia nation and particularly the victims who suffered from torture and killings at Tuol Sleng prison,” he wrote on Facebook. 

© AFP 2021

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel