SVAY, Ken, The People on 18 April & Vietnamese Planes and Pol Pot Soldiers in Battle
Svay Ken’s paintings are a unique document of Cambodian society and its transformations in the second half of the twentieth century. Born in Cambodia’s south, Svay worked as a porter at the Hotel Le Royal in Phnom Penh until the Khmer Rouge took power in 1975, forcing him and his family out of the city and into agrarian labour. In 1979, his family was reunited and he resumed work at the hotel. In 1993, just prior to retirement, Svay took up painting to support his family and began selling his works to the hotel’s patrons. He later set up his own gallery and painted every day until his death. These two works depict events at the beginning and end of the Khmer Rouge era: the forced mass evacuation of Phnom Penh in 1975, when thousands of people were sent to work in the countryside; and the invasion by the Vietnamese army in 1979, which toppled Pol Pot’s regime. They are important records of life during this turbulent time, during which much individual and collective memory was lost.