Artist under fire for editing smiles onto photos of Khmer Rouge genocide victims

Up to two million people died in the Cambodian genocide.
Up to two million people died in the Cambodian genocide. Photo credit: Getty Images

An Irish artist is under fire for editing images of Khmer Rouge genocide victims so they had smirks on their faces. 

Matt Loughrey colourised portraits of Cambodian genocide victims from S-21 prison, where more than 15,000 people were killed. The images were then featured in a profile piece with VICE. 

According to BBC, Loughrey explained in the since-deleted article he wanted to humanise the victims through editing. 

The article didn't mention whether the victim's smiles were edited, but Twitter users believe to have proved they were by providing comparisons of Loughrey's images and those from history books. 

Cambodia's culture ministry called for the removal of the VICE article in a statement, saying it affected "the dignity of the victims".

The systematic persecution and killing of Cambodians by Communist party the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979 resulted in the deaths of up to two million people. 

"We urge researchers, artists and the public not to manipulate any historical source to respect the victims," the ministry said. 

In a statement on its website, VICE responded saying the story didn't meet its editorial standards and has been removed.

"The article included photographs of Khmer Rouge victims that Loughrey manipulated beyond colorisation," the statement read.

"We regret the error and will investigate how this failure of the editorial process occurred."

Loughrey faced further backlash on social media. 

"To play around by using technology to put make-up on the victims of S-21 or the Cambodian Auschwitz is unacceptable and must be stopped. It is a very grave insult to the souls of the victims of genocide," wrote exiled Cambodian politician Mu Sochua.

"What bothers me most about that VICE article is that I cannot fathom the motives behind manipulating a portrait of a victim of genocide to make it appear as if they are smiling," wrote another Twitter user.

"It’s crazy that WHITE people actually have the AUDACITY to go and change pictures that were taken of MY PEOPLE and made them put a smile on their faces. Seriously f**king disgusting and disrespectful," said another.