Refaced/Defaced: Using Photographic Portraits of Khmer Rouge Perpetrators in Justice, Education and Human Rights activism in Cambodia
“There is no close up of the face, the face is in itself close-up, the close-up is by itself face, and both are affect, affection-image,” writes philosopher Gilles Deleuze in Cinema 1 (1986). I take this observation as a starting point for exploring the use of photographic portraits of Khmer Rouge perpetrators in Cambodia’s public sphere today. It is often said that the Democratic Kampuchea regime was faceless. Hidden behind the façade of the Angkar (the Organization), the Khmer Rouge leaders engaged in limited personality cult, thereby remaining invisible to the major part of the Cambodian population during their years in power. What happens then when ‘evil’ is given a face, or rather specific faces? How does the former ‘invisibility’ of senior Khmer Rouge shape the later reception of their public image? To what extent do photographic portraits of mass murderers provide socially accepted forms of emotional release for victims in particular and society in general? Is it possible to go beyond affect and use such photos as tools of information and education about genocide and accountability? How do media, especially social media, contribute to these processes? To answer these questions, the paper will look at a selected set of examples: the graffitied portraits of Khmer Rouge perpetrators displayed at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum; the media/outreach strategy of the Khmer Rouge Tribunal and partner NGOs (e.g. the exhibition ‘Genocide: The Importance of Case 002’ organized by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia at Tuol Sleng); the Dartboard Game action performed in the streets of Phnom Penh by the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia (AKRVC) as a protest against the work of the tribunal. The paper will discuss these examples within the broader frame of the ‘affective turn’ in the arenas of education, justice and human rights activism.