Rithy Panh: The Missing Picture

Short read

Solenn Delesvaux, Teacher of French as a foreign language in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

Sculptures from The Missing Picture, by Rithy Panh

Sculptures from The Missing Picture, by Rithy Panh

It was last September. Sitting on the edge of the stage, small, bearded, his two bare feet hanging in space in the front of a crowded screening room, Rithy Panh was answering the public after the projection of his last movie, The Missing Picture.

Pictures indeed lack to point the horror that involved every family of the country during the days the Angkar (the Red Khmers’ regime) made disappear one person out of five for the sake of a society pictured as agrarian between 1975 and 1979. There are only a few archived pictures left by the executioners, those of a rotten propaganda. The individual who is filming sometimes stays a little longer on a position, recording unwanted information, one of those that would have scratched the regime. These are the small nuggets Rithy Panh thoroughly looked for during his research at Bophana Centre, now showing these pictures chopped off by censorship, attesting a sort of resistance or perhaps awareness among the executioners.

Small terra cotta characters are modeled, carved out then naively painted under the sight of a fixed camera. Figurines awake in the 60s surrounded by the sound of Khmer rock that Phnom Penh is nowadays trying to rehabilitate in one of the city’s bar (The Cloud). However, little by little as the characters cover themselves with black clothes, an outfit imposed by the regime, people fatefully start to disappear one after another in a succession of crossfading. Irremediably left alone, the young main character grabs his face with his hands, his eyes left wide open with horror.

The story takes another dimension when, carefully wrapped in the storyteller’s bashfulness, we get to know the identity of the man who let himself starve to death or the identity of this young child who cries on her bench for hours before kissing the silence forever. We come closer to the director, moving on tip-toes. What should we think of these children denunciating their parents believing they were doing the right thing, mutating right away into executioners? What should we say about the scheduled disappearance of any familial ties?

Rithy Panh gave birth to this movie for his people, both in a restraint and large meaning, for his loved ones slaughtered by the ideological machine as well as for the younger Cambodian generations confronted to their family’s silence, some people refusing to recall their memories on atrocities, others perhaps having too much to hide.

The conference is leading to its end. The small man’s bare feet still swing with nonchalance; he looks terribly at ease in this intimidating position, sitting in front of nearly a hundred pairs of eyes. He confesses the picture he misses the most. It will be the picture of his two parents in an advanced age, by his side.


Happy International Peace Day!

Short read

Today is International Peace Day. It felt like the right time to introduce and develop what we at Artraker are doing.

Our name ‘Artraker’ is derived from ‘Muckraker’, a term coined by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1906. It refers to the adversarial journalistic movement before the First World War that investigated and published truthful reports on social issues. “Artraker” draws on this tradition.

Artraker was launched as an initiative in 2012 and established as a Community Interest Company (CIC) in 2013. It supports exceptional visual arts projects that shape how people and organisations understand, engage and respond to violent conflict and situations of violence.


For its inaugural Award, Artraker received 300 submissions from 90 countries.  An international jury shortlisted 17 submissions and from these 5 nominees for the Award were selected. 12 shortlisted submissions were exhibited at Artrakers Launch and Award Event held on International Peace Day (21 September 2013) and hosted by Goldsmiths College, London University.  Alexia Webster was the recipient Artraker’s inaugural Annual Award in 2013 and San Zaw Htway won the Award in 2014. It has now become an biennial Award and the next one will be given in 2016. 

Blue moon on the highway, by San Zaw Htway, winner of the 2014 Artraker prize and feature in “Art of Peace”.  San Zaw Htway was arrested in April 2015 for a political installation in Yangon. He was later released. (source: http://www.dvb.no/news/artist-arrested-after-casting-new-year-curse/49999)

Blue moon on the highway, by San Zaw Htway, winner of the 2014 Artraker prize and feature in “Art of Peace”.
San Zaw Htway was arrested in April 2015 for a political installation in Yangon. He was later released. (source: http://www.dvb.no/news/artist-arrested-after-casting-new-year-curse/49999)

In 2015 Artraker continues to promote the encounter, exchange and interaction, between peace-builders, researchers, and cultural organisations on the one hand, and artists and creative practitioners on the other.  

Our vision is to help shape and inspire through visual art how people and organisations understand, engage and respond to conflicts, and to become the recognised home for powerful conflict art and artists.

We take a three-pronged approach to realize this vision –

– Showcase conflict art – as a profound communicative tool to understand the complex issues of conflict

– Influence stakeholders – decision makers, NGOs, the public, art critics

– Build relationships and communities – with artists and organisations

Some of our ongoing projects include the exhibition “Art of Peace”, which travelled to London in 2014 and Colombo, Sri Lanka in 2015. It will come back next year to the UK.

Negative Peace is the cessation of violence. Positive peace… creates conditions for the elimination of the causes of violence.

Johan Galtung, 1990

We are also working on our “Positive Peace” project, a collaboration around four major themes between artists and experts. Keep posted!

Artraker is the brainchild of political artist, Manali Jagtap-Nyheim and a group of visionary peace-building, academic, and creative organisations.    

Artraker Lorena Wolffer : “A country at war with women”

Short read

States of Exception (Estados de excepción) is a series of participatory cultural interventions conceived for women to freely and joyfully exercise our rights in public and secure environments, which is currently being produced in Mexico and abroad.

Lorena Wolffer, "States of Exception". Participatory cultural intervention. Source: http://www.artraker.org/lorena-wolffer/4586004589

Lorena Wolffer,
“States of Exception”.
Participatory cultural intervention.
Source: http://www.artraker.org/lorena-wolffer/4586004589

Conceived in response to the growing wave of violence against women in Mexico that forces us to live in a de facto state of exception — outlined in Article 29 of the Mexican Constitution as the suspension of the population’s rights in cases of conflict or war — the project is centered on the creation of reverse states of exception. These are time and space-specific interventions in which women can exercise the totality of our rights in public arenas.

The first State of Exception is a four-course meal for 20 female passersby that take place in public streets or plazas. This apparently modest gesture — transporting an event that would normally take place in private settings into public spheres — produces a remarkable effect; it not only empowers each of the women participants but also delineates, for both the participants and the audience members, that other ways of being and relating to one another are possible.


"Your country is at war with women". Stickers in public places. Source: http://www.lorenawolffer.net/00home.html

“Your country is at war with women”. Stickers in public places. Source: http://www.lorenawolffer.net/00home.html

For over twenty years, Lorena Wolffer’s (Mexico City, 1971) work has been an ongoing site for resistance and enunciation at the intersection between art and activism. Lorena’s artwork addresses issues related to the cultural fabrication of gender and tenaciously advocates for women’s rights, agency and voices. She has also produced, facilitated, and curated dozens of projects with numerous artists using platforms such as museums, public spaces, and television.

"Talking violence" Source: http://www.lorenawolffer.net/00home.html

“Talking violence” Source: http://www.lorenawolffer.net/00home.html

From the creation of radical cultural interventions with various communities of women, to pioneering pedagogical models for the collective development of situated knowledge, these projects are produced within an inventive arena that underlines the pertinence of experimental languages and displaces the border between so-called high and low culture. Wolffer’s work — a stage for the voices, representations, and narratives of others, which are usually invisible in the Mexican scenario — brings to light the possibility of social realms that are grounded in respect and equality.

"Look me in the eyes" Source: http://www.lorenawolffer.net/00home.html

“Look me in the eyes”
Source: http://www.lorenawolffer.net/00home.html


Lorena Wolffer won the 2014 Artraker Award for Social Impact.




Multilingual typography as cultural diplomacy. Intercultural collaboration through design.

Short read, Talk

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.

Is it possible to do intercultural diplomacy with typography?

Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, who has created the Khatt foundation, thinks so. She explained last night at The Mosaic Rooms how the Typographic Matchmatking Projects (TMM) work.

Fedra Arabic and Latin Font

Fedra Arabic and Latin Font

Teams of typographs from different backgrounds worked together on projects requiring scripts in different languages, for instance in public spaces and cities. The TMM want to create dialogue between typographs but also and most of all between scripts. Having dissimilar scripts can give the idea that messages are dissimilar too:

Matching the scripts on public signs, for instance, show that the same message is conveyed:

Typographs familiar with the Latin alphabet but with little knowledge of the Arabic script had to understand it, its possibilities. Doing this pushed them to understand Arabic culture at the same time. Some of the questions designers asked themselves were:

  • should we use the writing tool as a starting point, as it will provoke a common gesture?
  • when was this Arabic/Latin script invented? are there Arabic/Latin scripts that were invented at the time?

The next TMM, in Morocco, illustrates the idea very well:

From top to bottom, left to right: A collage of images by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, Kristyan Sarkis, Juan Luis Blanco, Salah Bellizi, and Laura Meseguer.

From top to bottom, left to right: A collage of images by Huda Smitshuijzen AbiFares, Kristyan Sarkis, Juan Luis Blanco, Salah Bellizi, and Laura Meseguer.

It “will research and develop tri-script font families that combine Arabic, Tifinagh and Latin scripts harmoniously”. It is political: the Tifinagh script is used by the Berbers or Amazighs, who have been ostracised in North Africa. The Latin script, explained AbiFares, will take inspiration from Spanish scripts, to show the exchange between Morocco and Spain since the middle-ages. Therefore, bringing them together is an attempt at making these cultures collaborate and coexist in harmony, and as equals. 

Type design evolves and becomes obsolete very quickly, but as AbiFares states:

Having a book is important, because even though it’s not valid anymore, it is a historical document, and what we lack in the Arab world are historical documents.


The Khatt Foundation website also hosts a collaborative platform for type designers. This talk was part of a series of events around the exhibition Tracing Landscapes by artist Dia Batal, from 09.09 to the 27.09 at the Mosaic Rooms.

The Khatt Foundation was founded in 2004 in Amsterdam. The goals of the foundation are: build cross-cultural creative networks, provide a platform for dialogue and design research, support and initiate cross-cultural and inter-disciplinary collaboration, publish critical writing and establish a knowledge centre on contemporary design from the MENA region.


The Mosaic Rooms

Free Admission
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm
A.M. Qattan Foundation
Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road
London SW5 0SW

http://mosaicrooms.org/ | https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mosaic-Rooms/125931740810008 | Twitter @themosaicrooms | https://instagram.com/themosaicrooms/

T. 020 7370 9990

Nearest tube: Earl’s Court

Finding readers in Syria’s lost generation

Short read, Uncategorized

Zoe Lester, graphic designer at Pulse Brands.

Kitabna: Supporting refugee children with stories and education

Education in Lebanon is not free and for the majority of children living in refugee camps it is completely neglected and unattainable. Described in their hundreds of thousands as ‘Syria’s lost generation’ they are lacking the essential development and self-esteem that education can provide.


Kitabna writes and illustrates story books that connect culturally with the children and local surroundings. Their first book, لبطيخة العِمْلاقَةْ The Giant Watermelon, was written following visits to camps in the Beqaa Valley, eastern Lebanon, where they were shown a vegetable patch growing two watermelons.


The Giant Watermelon


The story of Kitabna started back in 2008, when Helen Patuck was teaching English in Bangladesh. The books children were given to learn English from were often second-hand offerings from Western aid agencies and did not reflect the cultural or environmental realities of the children reading them. Taking a few basic ideas, Helen rewrote and illustrated a traditional folk tale about working together towards a common goal: a meal to be shared. She used the names of the children in the school and set the story in their villages. This way, the English tale of The Giant Turnip became the Bangladeshi tale of The Giant Carrot.





Kitabna’s aims:


  • we aim to set warm and fun stories in refugee camps, creating pride and dignity in an environment which is home for these children and will be until the sectarian violence ends.
  • we aim to encourage reading and writing skills in both English and Arabic through the creation of bilingual children’s books.
  • we aim to stimulate imagination and encourage children to help each other create and learn.
  • we aim to develop the children’s storytelling abilities by encouraging them to write their own stories.





Kitabna have now written five books – the most recent is The Starlings Visit, based around the migrating birds that fly to the deserts of Northern Iraq. This book will be given to displaced children living in Northen Iraq and aims to not only help children with their reading and language skills, but also bridge the cultural gaps faced within this area by including three languages, Sorani Kurdish, formal Arabic and English.


The fifth book from the Kitabna project, The Starling’s Visit has been created specifically for the persecuted Yazidi refugees in northern Iraq and is based around the migrating starlings that fly to the deserts of Northern Iraq. Through an initial introduction by Pulse, the Kitabna project has successfully received funding from AMAR – an NGO operating in Iraq and will be distributing these books to children who come from Yazedi, Sunni, Shia Muslim, and Christian communities. The book, available in English, Arabic and Kurdish, intends to promote social cohesion and provide psychosocial support.



For more information on the Kitabna project and how you can support them you can check their Facebook page, The Kitabna Project, for updates, or visit:


If you work with displaced people and would like to order or commission books, please contact Helen on helen.patuck@gmail.com.


Zoe Lester is a graphic designer with a strong focus on design to incorporate a social purpose as well as reflect an optimistic future. Over the past four years she has developed a broad approach to design outcomes through illustration, typography, 3D design and spacial design. After studying graphic design at University College Falmouth she has gained four years’ experience supporting clients such as CCP, Artraker, Moneyline, The Hub, Studio Tilt, Active360 and most recently The Kitabna Project.



Tell Spring Not to Come This Year, a documentary by Saeed Taji Farouky and Michael McEvoy

Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.


I have been lucky enough to watch two documentaries by Saeed Taji Farouky. The first one, co-directed with Michael McEvoy, is a year in the life of the Afghan army. I must say it is so striking I have already watched it twice. The other one is about Salah Hmatou Ameidan, an athlete who uses his running as activism – but more on that in another post.

Tell Spring Not to Come This Year (2015) focuses on two men within a unit in one of the most violent parts of Afghanistan. One is a captain, the other a private, but either way I had never heard of the Afghan army – this time this is all about them. You only see the American helicopters leaving, but that’s about it. The characters tell about the reasons they enrolled in the army, the relations they have with the Afghan people, torn apart between military and Taliban violence. They also develop their feelings about the US army’s behaviour and departure.

I felt close to these people because of the voice-overs and the utter absurdity of some situations – such as when the police abandon their post with all the weapons, later picked-up by the talibans. At the same time I realised how little I knew about Afghanistan, for instance the beautiful countryside – rendered by an equally beautiful photography – the diversity of languages, etc.

This film challenges all the representations of the Afghan war but by extension of most conflicts led by Western countries, which only depict one side. But this is the Afghan soldiers’ country, their people, their government, and their existence.



Tell Spring Not to Come This year

Tell Spring will be shown at Cambridge Film Festival on 6th and 7th of November: http://www.cambridgefilmfestival.org.uk/themes/cambridge_film_festival/files/brochure-2015.pdf

http://www.touristwithatypewriter.com/spring/spring_synopsis.htm | https://www.facebook.com/tellspring?fref=ts | Twitter @tellspring


“I Spy with my little eye… A new generation of Beirut artists”.

Exhibition, Short read

Margaux Portron, Research and Communications Associate, Artraker.


Yesterday I visited the exhibition “I Spy with my little eye. A new generation of Beirut artists”, at the Mosaic Rooms, in London. It ends tomorrow, so if you can make the time, go and see it.

“I Spy” struck me for two reasons.

The first is the content of the exhibition. As discussed in last week’s post with Yahya from P21 Gallery, we expect artworks from warzones or postconflict zones to talk about war. This is the opposite here.


Photo of the Mosaic Rooms with three different artworks. Source: Margaux Portron

Photo of the Mosaic Rooms with three different artworks.
Source: Margaux Portron

Here you can see a lamp hanging from a chandelier. The artwork by Stéphanie Saadé is part of a series called Re-enactment LB /Chandelier, “a scenario seen in a traditional Beiruti house –  a lamp used only as a support for another lamp”.

The phone is part of the installation Let it ring, by Charbel-joseph H. Boutros, where three phones were dialled – the three phones are displayed throughout the Mosaic Rooms. “the installation/performance employs disappearance as a mode of visual suggestion, conveying historical and intimate meanings, finding poetic lines that extend beyond the realm of existing realities”.

The series of photographs by Georges Awde depict Syrian boys living in Lebanon, certainly, but they’re more about coming of age for boys than about fleeing a warzone:

His passing cover, by Georges Awde Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

His passing cover, by Georges Awde
Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

His passing cover, by Georges Awde Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

His passing cover, by Georges Awde
Source: http://www.georgeawde.com/

For some curatorial reason, however, the photographs were hung quite low on the wall, and because they were displayed in the halls I couldn’t really take a step back (literally), to look at them. It is a pity because these are really powerful pictures (as the comments left in the gallery book also suggest).

Which brings me to the form of the exhibition.

I liked that there was no info on the artworks on the walls: you had to take a brochure and find the artist in there. There are so many artworks there that I feel like info on the wall would have disrupted their message. Instead, the pieces work with the space without the museographic codes.

For instance, this is not an artwork:

The Reeds, by Lara Tabet (in collaboration with Michelle Daher) Source: Margaux Portron

The Reeds, by Lara Tabet (in collaboration with Michelle Daher)
Source: Margaux Portron

The Reeds corresponds to the photos, it is not the whole installation. I absolutely loved this set up, because it engaged me physically with the artworks: you have to dig into the box, the photos will not stay in the same order, etc. But even more so, because it comprises “photographic shots of a sexual cruising ground tucked away ine one Beirut’s iconic waterfronts”. Very graphic images indeed. This set-up transforms us from spectators to actors – you do not simply walk past.



The Mosaic Rooms

Free Admission
Opening times: Tuesday – Saturday, 11am-6pm
A.M. Qattan Foundation
Tower House, 226 Cromwell Road
London SW5 0SW

http://mosaicrooms.org/ | https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Mosaic-Rooms/125931740810008 | Twitter @themosaicrooms | https://instagram.com/themosaicrooms/

T. 020 7370 9990

Nearest tube: Earl’s Court