Sketches Show Process Behind Artist’s Memorial

Nearly three decades ago, French-Cambodian artist Sera embarked on a singular journey that would soon define his life.

Becoming an artist in Paris in the 1980s, he was haunted by the events that were tearing Cambodia apart. He began reading everything published on the subject and interviewing scores of people who had lived through those events.

One of the many sketches that contributed to Sera's vision for a monument honoring those who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. (Sera)
One of the many sketches that contributed to Sera’s vision for a
monument honoring those who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. (Sera)

His research led to the publication of three graphic novels covering the civil war of the early 1970s, the Khmer Rouge regime and its aftermath. His most ambitious work will be released early next year.

A 312-page novel, entitled “Concombres Amers,” or “Bitter Cucumbers,” will recount the events that led to the Khmer Rouge victory in April 1975 (an excerpt from the novel is featured in The Cambodia Daily’s magazine this weekend).

“I felt it was urgent to set aside the erroneous ideas that most people spread on that period, that is, from 1967 through 1975, and which caused Cambodia to get engulfed into the war, a war which is itself little known,” he said on Thursday.

In the early 2010s, during his work to chronicle the era, Sera realized there was no monument in Phnom Penh commemorating those who died during the Khmer Rouge regime. This led to another project, a memorial, “For Those Who Are No Longer Here.”

“There is nothing that speaks to today’s people, today’s youth in Cambodia,” he said. “The idea of proposing a memorial came from the realization of that void.”

Born in June 1961 as Ing Phous­era, Sera left Phnom Penh with his French mother in April 1975 along with the other foreigners that the Khmer Rouge escorted out of the country. His Cambodian father was not allowed to leave and died during the regime.

He spent three years developing a concept for his memorial. Some of the sketches and artwork he produced in the run-up to the final design will be shown in an exhibition opening Thursday and running through November 3 at the Institut Francais in Phnom Penh.

Sera did not want a monument explicitly portraying Khmer Rouge violence, yet, it had to reflect the events of April 17, 1975, when they seized power and forcefully displaced the populations out of the cities, he said.

“It had to be a figure that would convey Khmer people’s suffering…through its design,” he said.

The monument consists of a horizontal bronze figure seemingly tumbling into the void. It will include a pond—but not a wall, as Sera previously planned, due to lack of funds. He said he hopes to erect the monument next year on the median across from the French Embassy.

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