As a young boy, Kim Hak has seen his mother boil water, and sometimes a wild chicken in a kettle the family have been using during the turbulent years of the Khmer Rouge regime.
His fascination towards objects and heirlooms that Cambodians kept, sometimes secretly, during the civil unrests, has now become photographs in an ongoing series called “Alive”. Each image in “Alive” is the possession of a Cambodian that has endured years of hardship under the Khmer Rouge regime.
The images are currently exhibited at The 1961, . The exhibition will run from Nov 29 to Dec 20, 2014.
Many of these objects belong to Kim’s family, while others are owned by parents and grandparents of his friends. Some, including a book containing handwritten Buddhist Scriptures in Khmer language by its owner, were forbidden under the Khmer Rouge regime and so, had been painstakingly hidden for years.
Photographed to depict the objects’ actual size, these every-day items appear unassuming, even poetic, but tell tales of a harrowing past.
“These images are about war and suffering,” Kim said when met in Siem Reap. “I want the viewers to look deeper into the picture and ponder on the effects of war.”
Originally from Battambang, Kim was born two years after the Khmer Rouge regime ended. Memories of his parents struggling to rebuild their lives after the turmoil caused by civil unrests haunted Kim for years.
Photography, he said, is a tool to memorialise the sufferings of war, even though many of its victims are still reluctant to speak about it today, Kim said.
Through the years, the Cambodian photography practice has evolved with more works on social issues in the scene. “There is an increasing awareness that photography is also an expression of art and can be used to reflect on where our society is heading,” Kim said.
Kim hopes his images in “Alive” will spur discussions and debates among the young Cambodians that have little knowledge of the civil unrests as the subject is largely taboo among the older generation.
“War may kill the victim but it cannot kill the memory of its survivors,” he said. “Through these images, I am paying tribute to those that refused to leave during the war and wipe out this piece of history.”
“Alive” is an extension of Kim’s two previous bodies that touched on the idea of memory. An alumni of the Angkor Photo Workshop, he said it has changed his outlook on photography. “I used to look for beautiful images only, but the workshop helped me to discover my own style without compromising my identity.”