Repatriation of artefacts spark interest in Cambodians

Repatriated head at the National Museum of Phnom Penh. 20160413

A story on how the recent spate of artefact repatriations to Cambodia has sparked a renewed interest in the country’s past.

Repatriated head at the National Museum of Phnom Penh. 20160413
Repatriated head at the National Museum of Phnom Penh. 20160413

Returned Artifacts Stir New Interest in Cambodian Antiquity
VOA Cambodia, 13 April 2016

On a recent Friday afternoon Choup Leakhena, 18, was wondering around Phnom Penh’s National Museum, taking selfies with some of the institution’s impressive—and growing—collection of ancient Khmer sculpture.

A freshman at Pannasastra University who hails from Takmao city in Kandal province, Leakhena told VOA Khmer that the beauty of the works gave her a sense of national pride.

“I love and appreciate these masterpieces, such as the apsara”—a celestial nymph from Hindu mythology—“the statues of [12th century Khmer monarch] Jayavarman VII, Vishnu and Buddha,” she said. “I am able to see into life in the past.”

Artifacts looted from Cambodia’s ancient temples during decades of conflict have started to flow back into the country, giving young Cambodians like Leakhena an opportunity to embrace the country’s cultural heritage and history.

“I came here because I want to learn about it,” she said. “Finally, I can see [the sculptures] and I can admire our Khmer ancestors, who created such precious pieces for us. It’s really unique. Other countries don’t have such amazing artworks.”

In a remarkably successful campaign in recent years, the Cambodian government has identified looted artifacts abroad and initiated legal efforts to reclaim them. And the tide appears to have turned, with many of the treasures spirited away and sold on the black market now finding their way back to the nation that made them.

Full story here.

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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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