Wednesday, June 2, 2010

(Social) Realism: Cambodia

Vann Nath (born 1946)

Vann Nath (born 1946) is a Cambodian painter, artist and writer and human rights activist who is amongst a diverse group of writers from 22 countries to receive the prestigious Hellman/Hammett award which recognizes courage in the face of political persecution which he faced during the Khmer Rouge. He is the eighth Cambodian to win the award since 1995. Vann Nath is an important painter and writer whose memoirs and paintings of his experiences in the infamous Tuol Sleng prison are a powerful and poignant testimony to the crimes of the Khmer Rouge.

Vann Nath is an outspoken advocate for justice for victims of the crimes of the Khmer Rouge and this is reflected in his writing. His 1998 memoir A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 Prison, about his experiences at S-21 is the only written account by a survivor of the prison. It has been translated from English into French and Swedish. Vann Nath is one of Cambodia’s most prominent artists. Such was his artistic skill that his life was only spared by his captors so that he could be put to work painting and sculpting portraits of Pol Pot. He has played an important role in helping to revive the arts in Cambodia after decades of war and genocide.

In February 1978 Vann Nath is moved from the interrogation building to the workshop to begin his painting.

The prison commander explains to Vann Nath who he should paint, including Pol Pot himself. This painting was completed in 1996

Vann Nath looks at himself in a piece of broken glass while washing, as the S-21 guards look on.

Electricity and Water Torture

Nail-pulling Torture

Water Torture

Classroom Turned Prison

Mother and Child

World (Social) Realist Art (Index of Countries)
This blog page is part of an ongoing project by artist and part-time lecturer Caoimhghin Ó Croidheáin ( to explore Realist / Social Realist art from around the world. The term Realism is used in its broadest sense to include 19th century Realism and Naturalism as well as 20th century Impressionism (which after all was following in the path of Courbet and Millet). Social Realism covers art that seeks to examine the living and working conditions of ordinary people (examples include German Expressionism, American Ashcan School and the Mexican Muralists).

Click here for (Social) Realist Art Definitions, World (Social) Realism and Global Solidarity, Art and Politics, Social Realism in history and Country Index.

Suggestions for appropriate artists from around the world welcome to

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