On 18 March 1969 the US Air Force unleashed Operation Menu, a bombing campaign in Cambodia and Laos. Over the course of a year more than 108,000 tonnes of ordnance were dropped on the region in an attempt to drive out the communist Viet Cong. It is still debated to what extent this mission, flouting Cambodia’s official neutrality in the Vietnam War, contributed to the Cambodian Civil War and the rise to power of the Khmer Rouge.
Under Pol Pot’s brutal regime from 1975–79 Cambodia lost over 90% of its artists and intellectuals, leaving a massive vacuum in the nation’s cultural life. Only in recent years, a number of charitable organisations have begun to revive the country’s decimated arts scene. In 2013 the Season of Cambodia festival in New York helped boost attempts at artistic regeneration.
Meanwhile, a few artists who survived the genocide, such as Ken Svay, have begun to use their artistic practice to overcome the trauma of those brutal years.
Image: Ken Svay, Monthly Mandatory Meeting, 1975–1979, 1994. Oil on canvas, 72.4 x 130 cm. Courtesy Sa Sa Bassac