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On Embassy Wall, Photos of Eyes Surprise

Cambodian onlookers expressed surprise and wonderment outside the walls of the French Embassy Monday, where prints of giant eyes peered back at them, slowing traffic on the street, amassing a crowd along the curb and eliciting a wide variety of ideas.

Seventeen black-and-white photographs, three meters high, five meters wide, by a French photographer who only uses the name JR, depict the eyes of women and girls. Some of them are wide open, as if in surprise or shock. Others are narrowed and seem to depict thought, or sometimes hopelessness. Some eyes are closed, considering.

Also stuck on the wall is a message from JR, who says the photographs are a comment on the role of women, and domestic violence. Whatever their meaning, the giant photos have attracted crowds on the boulevard, as people slow when they pass, or stop.

Not all fully understand the meaning behind the photographs, but the installation does generate opinions.

“Those photos want to tell the public, both old and young, to open their eyes and not park their motorbikes or cars in front of the embassy,” Pich Sary, a 28-year-old motorcycle taxi driver, said, adding that while he didn’t fully understand the display, he was trying.

Preap Sopheak, an 18-year-old student from Preak Leap high school, passing by on his bicycle, said he was “very surprised” and “very scared” by the photos, “because there are the women’s eyes, open.”

“But I think it is meaningful for Cambodian people,” he said.

Ou Srey Pich, 23, said she understood that “the pictures show us to open our eyes, to watch the development of Phnom Penh. The pictures also want people to see the view of Phnom Penh, and do not want the people to make darkness.”

“All the photos explain that people in Cambodian society should turn from violence against women and children to promote their roles and the living of people peacefully,” Puth Sopheak, a 27-year-old graduate looking for work, said. “Those pictures are very difficult to understand, but I think those pictures will show the great suffering of women and children who have met the consequences of war and violence in society.”

French Embassy spokeswoman Fabyen Mansencal said the exhibition of installation is of women from various countries, especially India and Africa. The exhibit is important for the Cambodian people “to look at and consider.”