23 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol

A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol
Cambodia Living Arts, Asia TOPA
14 October 2017
Hamer Hall

Photo by Tey Tak Keng

A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol is for the two million who died or were killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

At the end of this performance, the audience are given a small orange envelope. It holds a photo. Mine is a black and white image of a young woman and man at the steps of a traditional Cambodian house on stilts. Their combination of Western and Cambodian clothes and their semi-formal pose says 1970s.

I don't know anything more except that they didn't survive the 1970s.

I visited Cambodia in 2010. I fell in love with the country and the people I met and it took me a few days to realise what was so obvious that it was hard to see it: there weren't many people older than I was.

Photo by Tey Tak Keng

Bangsokol is created by two artists who survived the regime: artist and film maker Rithy Pahn and composer Him Sophy. Sopy says: "My generation in Cambodia experienced war – I lost my family, I saw people killed. I don't want this again, for anyone."

With a western chamber orchestra and chorus with Khmer music, this astonishingly beautiful work  combines a requiem for the dead and lost with the Buddhist bangsokol funeral ritual for spirits to find peace.

It creates humanity and hope out of horror that is possibly unimaginable to anyone who hasn't experienced it, and it passes hope and tradition onto the next generation.

I've put my photo of the people I don't know in a frame.

The Khmer Rouge took thousands of photos of  people imprisoned and tortured and killed at the S 21 prison in Phnom Pehn, which is now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Some of these photos were used in Bangsokol. For thousands, the only photographic record of their existence is of them in hell.

To be given photos of Cambodians from those generations when they were happy is a treasured gift.

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