Grant to save S-21 victims’ clothes

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US Ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy (centre left) and Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona (centre right) at the signing on Thursday. Hong Menea

US ambassador to Cambodia Patrick Murphy and Minister of Culture and Fine Arts Phoeurng Sackona on Thursday signed an agreement granting $75,000 in funds to preserve textiles belonging to the victims who perished at S-21, the notorious genocide prison from the Khmer Rouge era.

The grant was inked at the capital’s Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum – formerly known as S-21 prison – during the Conservation of 20th-Century Ethnographic Objects, Phase II ceremony.

The conservation project, said Sackona, is supported by the US Ambassador’s Fund for Cultural Preservation since 2005.

“The funds have been focused on the restoration and conservation of temples, the inventory of cultural objects, the prevention of illegal trafficking of ancient treasures and the promotion of education on the antiques trade,” said Sackona during the signing ceremony.

The funds were also used to launch workshops, training programmes, conservation initiatives, document compilation and the selection of 5,000 types of textiles that could be exhibited for a long time.

The project, she said, would focus on textiles, which had been stored in cabinets more than nine years ago, on the ground floor of Exhibition Hall K.

A team would work on creating a special cabinet that would lessen the damage on the textiles from insects and moisture.

“US support for the textile conservation project at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum is truly important for the ministry as well as the Cambodian people throughout the country.

“All these items will serve as historical evidence for the study and research of the crimes committed by the Khmer Rouge against millions of innocent people from 1975-79,” she said.

Murphy said the project would help conserve the objects left behind by the victims. The objects, he said, can also serve as historical evidence which is to be conserved forever.

“The conservation of 20th-Century ethnographic objects at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum Phase II highlights the US’ efforts in conserving the Cambodian heritage.

“It also shows cooperation between the US and Cambodian authorities in compiling documents on the brutality of the Khmer Rouge,” he said.

Museum director Chhay Visoth said after receiving the funds during the first phase, the museum had undertaken conservation on 836 individual textiles, 21 boxes of clothing articles and a total of 67 stored boxes.

Over the past 40 years, some of the collections have suffered damage, especially textiles, clothing and daily-use items, said Visoth.

Given the degrading condition of the victims’ clothing, the ministry had searched for partners to provide funding and technical expertise for conservation.

“During early 2014, the ministry invited Julia Brenan, an expert on textile conservation to evaluate and propose a plan to conserve these garments,” he said.

Victims Association of Democratic Kampuchea president Chum Mey expressed support for the US initiative as it contributes to the preservation of historical evidence which is key to studying the events that transpired during the genocidal regime.

“I am personally a victim [of the Khmer Rouge era]. So, I had gone through difficulties. At the time, I lost hope of survival.

“The evidence we are conserving include gravesites, mass graves, chains, torture devices, daily tools and utensils, documents and victims’ clothing, among other items,” he said.

The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts received a $55,500 grant to support the first phase of conservation.