Leang Seckon
Mother Gave a Mantra Shirt
Mixed media on canvas
42 x 60 cm

During the reign of Lon Nol, with the help of the United States of America, there was no king. We had only the Supreme Patriarch. People’s lifestyles, including their clothes and tastes in music, were influenced by the West. Men who served in high ranks of the army liked to waste their money, whereas officials were corrupt.

There is a family with an old lady and two sons, one of whom is studying in Phnom Penh. He is willing to serve in the Khmer National Army. As a result, he is given a mantra shirt for protection from harm during the war. The other son decides to flee into the Maki forest to join the resistance. Finally, the two brothers have to fight one another – under the influence of political ideology and using the guns of the black-shirt and army-green-shirt parties. The son with the black shirt dies. However, his party, which is known as the Khmer Rouge, wins the war. They seize Phnom Penh and immediately evacuate thousands of citizens to the countryside.

There is a folktale about two birds of the same colour. Since they look alike, they confuse themselves as well as other animals. So, they decide to paint themselves. When they get their hands on the paint, they each think they will use it to make the other one look worse. One paints the other black. The other paints the one grey, white and black. When they are done, they go to look at themselves in the river. Seeing their ugly states, they become angry and disappointed. Every time they meet after that, they always fight. Because of this feud, the two birds decide to part ways. The black bird is later called a ‘crow’, and decides to start hunting during the day. The one with mixed colours is later called a ‘cuckoo’, and decides to start hunting at night. Nature has evolved to make sure that the two never fight again.

Two foreigners who lived through the fighting in Cambodia decided to publish a book with both of their pictures on the front cover. They said they were looking for the truth. How much truth do they know? Why did Cambodia have wars? Who started the whole thing? How could two brothers, one in black, one in army green, become enemies in the battlefield?