How photographer Kim Hak captured Cambodian survival stories

Photographer Kim Hak has documented the keepsakes of fellow Cambodians who escaped Pol Pot’s killing fields for new lives in New Zealand. He talks to Mike White about his exhibition Alive.

They are small things, simple things, but things that tell a life story. They’re things Cambodians who survived Pol Pot’s killing fields, and piteous refugee camps, brought to New Zealand with them and have kept as touchstones of their former life. And they’re things that Cambodian photographer Kim Hak is travelling the world to document, the images appearing in his exhibition Alive, which opened in Auckland in June.

Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge took over Cambodia in 1975, forcing the population into the countryside and implementing a communist agrarian society. Minorities, those associated with the previous regime, and those who were educated were killed; about a quarter of the country’s population died before the Khmer Rouge were ousted in 1979. Hundreds of thousands more fled to refugee camps along the Thai border and in Malaysia, before being given sanctuary in countries like New Zealand.

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