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UW anthropologist connects communities to archive of Khmer Rouge-era Cambodia
Jenna Grant first learned about the complexities of modern-day Cambodia while working on a World Health Organization project along the country’s northwest border with Thailand.
There, she lived and worked with people who had been separated from their villages during the Khmer Rouge regime decades before — a time of violence and authoritarianism under Pol Pot that left up to one-quarter of the country’s population dead and a devastating legacy affecting generations. After the defeat of the Khmer Rouge in 1979, many fled starvation, uncertainty and war, some living up to a decade of their lives in refugee camps on the Thai side of the border. The majority were repatriated in Cambodia in the early 1990s, and some settled in other countries, including the United States. Trauma, poverty and language barriers have left young and old unclear, unable or unwilling to communicate about the past.
Since Grant arrived as an assistant professor in the University of Washington’s Department of Anthropology, she has worked to create sites for stories of and about Cambodians to be told, through teaching, guest speakers, a multimedia installation and work with the local Cambodian community.
Grant’s newest endeavor explores a collaborative approach to narrating history. Through a $10,000 Whiting Foundation Seed Grant, she will turn to an collection of photos and documents from the final weeks of the Khmer Rouge, an archive that — serendipitously — is housed in Special Collections at UW Libraries. Donated in the late 2000s by journalist and UW alumna Elizabeth Becker, the archive provides unique insight into a difficult, and in some ways mysterious, period in Cambodian history. Grant’s Archive Actions project uses the unique documents of the Becker collection as prompts, provocations and raw materials for storytelling and artistic production by communities affected by the Khmer Rouge.
Elizabeth Becker was a Washington Post reporter in 1978 when she was one of two journalists from mainstream Western media invited to visit Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was then known.
“When I learned that Elizabeth Becker’s archive was at UW Libraries, I was just blown away,” Grant said. “This is a unique and special collection because there aren’t a lot of images and texts from that period of time. It is important that Cambodians and Cambodian Americans shape the archive and representations of their histories.”
Becker was a Washington Post reporter in 1978, when she was one of only two journalists from mainstream Western media invited to visit Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was known under the Khmer Rouge. In her coverage of the trip and subsequent recounting of it, Becker noted the empty cities, children working the farmland and rumors of mass killings — a contrast to when she had lived in the country in previous years. She took notes and photos and managed to save enough not only for an archive, but also for use years later during the genocide trial for leaders of the very regime she covered.
Grant first looked through the archive in 2017, when she, along with UW Southeast Asia Librarian Judith Henchy and filmmaker and UW graduate student Adrian Alarilla, created an interactive installation at the UW Research Commons Library. Using some of Becker’s photographs of people and scenes from her 1978 reporting trip, the team superimposed a map of Cambodia’s killing fields, projecting the whole piece against a floor-to-ceiling window. That work, “The Age of the Kampuchea Picture,” was installed in honor of a visit to the UW by Cambodian filmmaker Rithy Panh, who had collaborated with Becker on an earlier documentary.
Henchy notes that Becker’s photographs are among the few taken by an outside observer during the Khmer Rouge regime. Becker’s tour was carefully managed by that regime, but her photos are nevertheless striking, Henchy said, demonstrating a critical issue for any such archive: “how to describe and represent the material history of violence in ways that are both objective and morally aware.”
https://www.washington.edu/news/2019/03 ... -cambodia/
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Actually three journalists. The third, Malcolm Caldwell, was murdered during the visit, allegedly on orders from Brother Number One, an irony considering he was a fellow traveler who had always written favorably of the KR experiment.Becker was a Washington Post reporter in 1978, when she was one of only two journalists from mainstream Western media invited to visit Democratic Kampuchea, as Cambodia was known under the Khmer Rouge.
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she knew only what had been told her
Meantime, Dudman was the typical libtard 'journalist': the US was an evil imperialist, while the barefoot Indochinese revolutionary was a pure and noble creature ... end of story.
That left Becker. I misplaced her book decades ago, but recall being wary as to her description of how she scored an invite. She implied that she was chosen to balance out the other two. That is crap. No way would Pol Pot have allowed in anyone other than a perceived sycophant.
And Becker certainly had all the required credentials. She had been expelled from Phnom Penh in 1974 for being considered way too pro-KR in her reporting; and she wrote for the Washington Post which, along with the NY Times and the other MSM outlets, had maintained a 90 percent negative presentation of both the Vietnam War and the US involvement in it.
Amusingly, in her book written long after all the above events, Becker tried to pretend that she had savaged the Khmer Rouge during the war. She claimed to have written how they were vicious and evil, or words to that effect. But as she did not reproduce the alleged article or supply a context, then how do we believe her? My suspicion was that if she did indeed pen those words, then it related to her reporting on a certain high profile Khmer Rouge defector and the reproduction of his description of the KR. So although Becker had 'written' those words for her newspaper, it was not an insightful Becker comment on the true nature of the insurgency but had been merely a quote of the defector's (correct) interpretation of that movement.
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