PhD defense Stephanie Benzaquen-Gautier
On 22 December, Stephanie Benzaquen-Gautier will defend her PhD thesis, entitled 'Images of Khmer Rouge Atrocities, 1975-2015. Visualizing the Crimes of Pol Pots' Regime in Transnational Contexts of Memory'. All who are interested are welcome to attend the ceremony.
Violent transformation of Cambodian society
The Khmer Rouge or Communist Party of Kampuchea came to power in April 1975 in the context of the Second Indochina War. Through extreme violence the new leadership implemented a radical transformation of Cambodian society, the effects of which keep affecting the population at many levels until today. This situation shapes to a great extent the understanding and recollection of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia and abroad.
Visual history of Pol Pot's regime
Benzaquen-Gautier's study looks at forty years of visualization of Khmer Rouge atrocities. On the basis of a selected set of documentary and artistic images, she examines and historicizes “ways of seeing” the crimes of the Pol Pot’s regime in a changing memory landscape engaging the socialist, non-socialist, and post-socialist worlds and different interpretations of the notion of 'postcolonial'. It situates the analysis in a transnational realm emphasizing the interaction of Cambodians and non-Cambodians in the production and circulation of visual material.
Through five empirical cases, this study clarifies the different processes of transnational memorialization of Khmer Rouge atrocities that have been taking place in the visual realm over the past decades: on the one hand, the multiplication and diversification of stakeholders, media of expression, and narratives attached to images; on the other hand, the centralization and institutionalization of memory through monopolies, claims over ownership and legitimacy, and the establishment of new structures of participation. Benzaquen-Gautier also points at the long process still ahead before Khmer Rouge-related visual culture becomes a disciplinary field providing, beyond reductionist images, a deeper understanding of what happened in Cambodia.
In a more general sense, this study shows the impact of iconic representations on our understanding and recollection of genocide: the role of visual culture itself in creating the invisibility and non-representability of mass atrocities as well as the violence of memory politics itself in the present.