Uecker’s Tuol Sleng Paintings Debut in Capital

Until earlier this year, 62 paintings created by renowned German artist Guenther Uecker during a trip to Cambodia in 1993 sat in his studio, inaccessible to the public.

“I saw many wounded children, some of them had lost their limbs, others had facial injuries,” the 85-year-old said of the trip in a recent interview with the gallery Academy of Arts, Berlin.

A work from Guenther Uecker's exhibition 'Wind of the Souls of the Dead, for the Cambodian Children' (Guenther Uecker)
A work from Guenther Uecker’s exhibition ‘Wind of the Souls of the Dead, for the Cambodian Children’ (Guenther Uecker)

“What I saw shocked me. It was like to look through a curtain of tears. This is what inspired me to create these works,” he said.

Last night, Mr. Uecker’s paintings were put on display in Phnom Penh for the first time as Meta House opened its doors to “Wind of the Souls of the Dead, for the Cambodian Children.” The exhibition was put on by Meta House founder Nicolaus Mesterharm, who curated the same exhibition in Berlin earlier this year after hearing about the collection.

The 59 pieces—three went missing over the past two decades—include faded photos of prisoners at the Tuol Sleng Security Center covered by a translucent screen and drops of paint.

In an interview Tuesday, Mr. Mesterharm said the droplets were intended to convey the pain Mr. Uecker felt at witnessing a country still reeling from civil war, an experience that evoked his childhood in Nazi Germany.

“I thought what Uecker was doing with his art was letting the people disappear like the Khmer Rouge let the people disappear…but actually it’s not. It’s what he de­scribes as a curtain of tears because he was so moved by what he saw he can only see it blurry,” he said.

“He has a kind of genocide, war focus based on his own experience because he experienced the war as a kid in Germany,” added Mr. Mes­terharm, who called Mr. Uecker the “most prominent” artist Meta House has hosted.

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