Drawings of Bun Heang Ung: Life under the Khmer Rouge 1975-1979

Search

For further information on the 'Drawings of Bun Heang Ung', search or browse the Collection in the ANU Digital collections.

Overview

This collection is a series of 90 original black and white drawings in Indian ink on art paper by Bun Heang Ung depicting his personal experience under the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979.

On the back of each artwork is a caption written in English and some with handwritten Khmer script. 60 of the original 90 pieces were published in The Murderous Revolution: Life & Death in Pol Pot's Kampucheain in 1985 as a co-publication between Ung and Martin Stuart-Fox. In 2008, 87 drawings were uploaded onto Ung's blog with text recounting the event to accompany each image.

Each artwork in the collection is a detailed representation of the conditions of work and living under the Khmer Rouge regime-hardship, affliction, despondency, desperation and varied other emotions are vividly depicted in the characters drawn. The textured storytelling in both the foreground and background of each piece furnishes a fuller and nuanced impression of the times and circumstance.

Ben Heang and Phiny Ung made a statement to the Australian National University in May 2012.

Background

These pieces were drawn between 1980 and 1981, shortly after Bun Heang and Phiny Ung arrived in Brisbane, and later in Sydney, as refugees from Cambodia. Due to his limited language at that time, drawing was the best means for Ung to communicate the trauma he and Phiny had undergone. In an interview for New South Wales' Migration Heritage project, Phiny recounted, "we have no photograph and we worry we may forget. So it's sort of an archive". Every night during those months, they recorded their experiences in ink. Ung wrote later that each drawing took twelve hours to complete:

Using Bun's skills as an artist we began charting our personal experiences from the day the Khmer Rouge took power on 17 April 1975 until we left Cambodia. We talked while he sketched with pencil to ensure that, although we had no photographs or documentary evidence, we correctly remembered every event. (Statement to ANU, May 2012).

Stuart-Fox wrote in his preface to the 1985 publication:

Ung has the visual memory of an artist. What remained etched on his mind was a series of indelible images: - the stunned disoriented mass of people evacuating the capital of Phnom Penh; the brutal arrogance of Khmer Rouge cadres... (1985: vi)

He continues:

Drawing them was a kind of catharsis, an outpouring of pent-up emotions. Day after day with untiring compulsion he drew these stark images in Indian ink, with no colour, until the record was complete. (ibid.)

In total, Ung drew 90 pictures, and 60 of them were published in The Murderous Revolution with Martin Stuart-Fox. Stuart-Fox wrote the text to accompany the drawings and weaving into Ung's personal story the historical development of that period in Cambodia. The book proved to be very popular resulting in many unauthorised re-publications of it.

In 2008, 87 of the drawings were republished on a blog. The graphic collection-titled Khmer Rouge and its Evil Revolution: drawings by Bun Heang Ung-was republished with a preface by Ung. Each uploaded image is accompanied by a caption and text that elaborates and clarifies the graphical depiction of the experiences and conditions under the Khmer Rouge reign. The image and text together tell a compelling story which is both personal and educational.

Bun Heang and Phiny wrote later: "we are concerned that younger generations of Cambodians are being taught only part of the truth about what happened", and expressed their hopes that this present collection at The Australian National University will "bear witness to the catastrophic history of the Khmer Rouge, and will accurately record [our] shared experience... [and] many others who were murdered during this terrible period" (statement to ANU, May 2012).

Bibliography

The ABC Canberra television news broadcast the donation of the Bun Heang Ung collection to the University on Thursday, 20 September 2012.