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iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

mak remissa
left 3 days*

«The Americans are going to bomb Phnom Penh. - they said - Leave the city at once. There is no need to take your belongings»**

Elizabeth Becker

Not even four years after the fall of Phnom Penh in the hands of the Khmer Rouge on the 17th April 1975 starts the occupation of the Cambodian capital by the Vietnamese troops on the 7th January 1979: that was enough to accomplish what is known to history as the Cambodian genocide. To date it is not possible to give a numerical size to the tragedy. According to estimates by the CIA, those executed would be between 50,000 and 100,000, while the regime placed in power by Vietnam declared 3.3 million deaths. Pol Pot admitted about 800,000 deaths, but American government studies and Yale University estimates are set at 1.2 million and 1.7 million respectively. Amnesty international instead sets the deaths at 1.4 million. Other sources speak of 2 million. Apart from the executions, it is difficult to calculate how many may have lost their lives indirectly. In the delirium of those four years there was also in fact the running of complete self-sufficiency of the country to contribute to the tragedy. In the countryside it was necessary to quadruple the production of rice, hospitals were closed and even the autocracy in the production of medicines was prosecuted, with the result of killing even those who contracted curable diseases such as malaria.
The beginning of this tragedy for the people of Phnom Penh began with the evacuation of the city with no real justification. The citizens of the capital had three days to leave their homes and head towards the countryside in a spectral scenario of death and terror. Young, old and infants faced a terrible transferal. The scene before their eyes was devastating. The memories of those who have been scarred by those moments even speak of the impossibility of obtaining water supplies because of the presence of dead bodies in the watercourses. It is inevitable, therefore, that this kind of experience remains in the memory of those who had lived it at a very young age.
For about forty years, the components of the sensory memory (heroic and iconic memories) have kept alive the sensations of those terrible days, turning into long-term memory. The episodic and emotional factor, have shouted in the soul of that child of four or five years old who had lived a terrible exodus. And continued to haunt his soul even when, now an adult, the weight of that experience has become unbearable. A weight that you can perhaps explain in words, but you cannot show, because memories do not have a physical substance, cannot be taken from a drawer and offered to the eyes of others. Unless you turn them into raw material for an elaboration which aims to bestow them a physical form, perceivable to the world. A form that finds its concreteness in the construction through the cut out figurines that roam the countryside around Phnom Penh, to give materiality to the immateriality of memory thanks to the photographic act which allows the fixation of the memory in its reconstruction after the event. An operation certainly not uncommon in the world of contemporary photography, just think of the work of Ventura, in operations like that of Maurizio Valdarnini or Azadeh Akhlaghi. In these works, however, the scenery and the events proposed draw on repertoires of collective memory, hired for oral transmission, study or through the media. They do not belong, in other words, to a memory resulting from personal experiences.
The great emotional intensity that accompanies Left 3 Days takes therefore all its vigour in the contextualisation, and the whole work seems paradoxically to reverse the concept of eidetic memory. If in fact with this definition we identify that mental image which is formed following the exposure to a painting or a photograph, and which tends to lose strength in a short space of time, in this case it is the mental image, which generates the physical destined to persist in time. And in this genesis even the cathartic function is expressed by the creative act, thanks to which the mental image of an incomprehensible tragedy starts to melt at the very moment when the memory begins to take tangible form through the construction of the photographic image. The painful power of the memory is transferred to the physical image and shared with the world, relieving the author, who certainly cannot erase his experience, but may eventually lessen the burden of a terrible emotional weight borne for decades.

[ Sandro Iovine ]

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(*) - Left 3 Days was exhibited during the 11th edition of the Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops.
(**) - Elizabeth Becker, Bophana, Cambodia Daily Press, Phnom Penh, 2010; p. 20.

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[ INTERNAL RESOURCES ]
[ exhibitions ] Left 3 Days: the exhibition
[ video ] On the thread of memory: interview with Mak Remissa
[ FPtag ]
Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops 2015

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

iLeft 3 Days. © Mak Remissa/Asia Motion.

Mak Remissa - Born in 1970, leaves Phnom Penh in 1975 following the occupation of the city by the Khmer Rouge to take refuge in the province of Takeo. In 1995 he graduated in Fine Art and Photography at the Royal Fine Arts School in Phnom Penh. Mak Remissa has worked for Reuters and, from 2010, is a member of the agency Asia Motion and works for the EPA (European Pressphoto Agency). His works were exhibited in 2011 at the Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops, in 2012 at the Yangon Photo Festival and at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in Singapore, in 2014 at the Xishuangbanna Festival in China and in 2015 at the PhotoPhnomPenh and the Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops.

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