The Spectacle Blog

Artistic Skill Saves Life

I wonder how many of those huge portraits of dictators are "commissioned" under threat of torture or death. That's what I thought as I continue to follow the testimony in the Nuremburg-type trials of the Khmer Rouge.

By on 7.2.09 | 12:00PM

I wonder how many of those huge portraits of dictators are "commissioned" under threat of torture or death. That's what I thought as I continue to follow the testimony in the Nuremburg-type trials of the Khmer Rouge. As I mentioned yesterday, two of the men who survived the torture administered at the S-21 under Cambodian dictator Pol Pot were artists. This is how Bou Meng survived, from AP:

The artist was put to work painting portraits that glorified Mao Zedong of China and North Korea's Kim Il Sung and another that mocked Ho Chi Minh, the father of Vietnam's communist revolution.

"I was ordered to paint a picture of Ho Chi Minh's head on the body of a dog," 68-year-old Bou Meng told a U.N.-backed tribunal. Cambodia's archenemy was neighboring Vietnam, which eventually invaded to oust the Khmer Rouge in 1979....

The beatings stopped when his jailers found out he had a skill that could serve them.

"I survived because I could paint exact portraits of Pol Pot," he said. His first job was to copy Pol Pot's image from a photograph and make a towering painting that was 10 feet high and 5 feet wide (3 meters high and 1.5 meters wide). It took three months to complete.

Duch then ordered him to make three more paintings of Pol Pot and the other communist leaders.

Duch would sometimes oversee his work and smile at him when he did a good job or give him cigarettes, Bou Meng said.

Interesting how these dictators aren't always in one big brotherhood (as we already knew with Stalin and Hitler). In the eyes of Pol Pot, China was good; the Soviet Union and Vietnam were bad (the latter also oweing to land disputes and other neighbor-related conflicts).

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