33 / 50 by Isabel Muñoz, 1996
Isabel Muñoz, winner of the National Photography Award in 2016, aims for her photographs to be a bridge, an embrace. And if humanity is the epicenter of her work, the body is the temple on which every emotion we carry is built.
Her photograph Khmer dance is open to multiple layers of interpretation. The first and most obvious is the body of a female Khmer dancer, which is shown moving through space, bearer of an ancient tradition from Cambodia.
Secondly, the story that lies behind the image. The woman portrayed is Piseth Pilika, who was the prima ballerina (principal female dancer) of the Royal Ballet when Isabel Muñoz visited Cambodia in 1996. It is important to note that this culture almost disappeared during the Khmer Rouge regime, a genocide that led to the death of 1.7 million people. In 1999, Piseth was murdered by a gunman. The wife of the prime minister, Hun Sen, is thought by many to be behind the attack, as her husband had forced the dancer to become his mistress.
And as if it had always been there, a third reading of this photograph of the Khmer dance emerges before our eyes, the most important of all, one that only the viewer can complete: all the beauty and sadness of this world can be contained in one hand that rises against injustice.