It’s always nerve racking doing a presentation, even if it is just a ten minute one. However, during the time I was preparing this presentation I had an ethical dilemma about the subject matter. The task was to present our topic for our individual essay’s and I have elected to write about the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and its 3 identities. Throughout my research I have been confronted by horrific tails of human cruelty and some very vivid re-enactments and renditions, this left me with worries of whether or not it is my place, or if I have the right to discuss this subject. After rethinking my approach and the realisation that looking at this structure from a western perspective could be beneficial I decided to press on with it.
A plain reading of the history of S-21 is not what I feel is necessary, instead I have decided to look at the manifestations of power within the walls and the power the structure holds now. This will be done in relation to the power structures discussed by Foucault.
The structure has moved seamlessly from a school to a prison to a museum, all of which have got structures of power within them.
The school had western traces already built into it since the education system was a surviving element of the French occupation so it wouldn’t be hard to find traces of the Foucault’s Power/Knowledge ideas implemented within its walls. The school could be seen as a micro centre for control, instead of consolidating all control into a central body, it was individually implemented across different systems, the schools, prisons, barracks and hospitals. The control in these micro-systems allow the image of power to be separated and distributed across smaller groups.
The notion of education hit a reversal point in 1975, with the introduction of the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot’s decision to impose the agrarian society. With the beginning of “year 0” all elements of Cambodian history and culture was to be erased. The power spread across the micro-centres was removed and consolidated into one central point. The first stage of this structures transformation began with the hollowing out of its occupants. The people first and then the interiors with few exceptions. This structure had lost the power imposed on it and now faced a form of punishment for having that power in the first place. It was mutilated to fit its new purpose as a prison.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. This is the identity that I experienced and as the name suggests this object now has museum status. It does however have two other functions, one as a memorial and another as a site of performance.
Museums implement the same form of control you’d expect in many micro-centres of power, the interior establishment expects certain behaviours from visitors and implements them with surveillance and other measures. We also frame them as institutions with our own expectations. Coming from a western society I have certain expectations to what a museum is and how I am expected to behave within them.
This is a bare-bones synopsis of what I am interested in writing about, I know I need to expand on the Foucauldian notions of power and also the agencies that have used the power within this structure, but this will come in due course.
I will be looking to expand on these ideas and will publish the finished result on this blog