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Khmer art exhibition in Berlin

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07 June 2007 (The Economist) – The Economist reviews the Angkor: Sacred Heritage of Cambodia exhibition in Berlin and also touches on looted Cambodian antiquities. The looting of Cambodia’s cultural heritage has been touched on many times in this site; you might want to look up our podcast featuring Heritage Watch, as well as the more recent news of Angkor Wat artefacts put up for sale on eBay.

Gods on display

There are two stories that unfold in the cool lofty rooms of Berlin’s 19th-century Martin-Gropius-Bau museum—a far cry from the sweaty heat of the National Museum of Phnom Penh, which has lent many of the exhibits. First, are the splendid sculptures dominated by a procession of the Hindu deities, Vishnu and Shiva, plus Harihara, who represents a mixture of both. One of the most striking is the serene face and upper body of Vishnu in a sleeping pose, an 11th-century fragment of what is believed to have been the largest bronze statue ever cast in Cambodia.

The second story is less obvious and probably unintended by the show’s organisers. It is to do with the wholesale looting of the temples that began when the French swept into Angkor 150 years ago. In the style of European colonisers of the period, acquisitive French explorers strapped prize statues onto the backs of locals for the trip out of the jungle, then loaded them onto rafts for the journey down the Mekong river for dispatch to Paris. Many ended up as the core of the collection of Asian art at Paris’s Musée Guimet.

Read about the Angkor: Sacred Heritage of Cambodia exhibtion at the Martin-Gropius-Bau museum.

Books about the art and statuary of Cambodia and the Khmers:
Adoration and Glory: The Golden Age of Khmer Art by E. C. Bunker and D. Latchford
Apsarases at Angkor Wat, in Indian context by K. M. Srivastava
Khmer sculpture and the Angkor civilization by M. Giteau
Art & Architecture of Cambodia (World of Art) by H. I. Jessup

Wednesday Rojak #60 – The Broken Pagoda edition

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It’s truly a rojak edition of rojak – I can’t find a theme to string all these posts through! We’ve got a little bit of stolen gold (photographs, that is), broken pagodas, evolutionists and a bit of twittering.
Chedi restoration - Wat Doi Suthep
photo credit: avlxyz
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Ancient Angkorian jewellery to go on show

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via Khmer Times, 04 January 2018:

The government will launch a special exhibition of old Khmer jewellery and ornaments, especially a set of ancient Angkorian gold jewellery that has been returned to Cambodia, to let the public see how beautiful these…

Source: Ancient Angkorian jewellery to go on show – Khmer Times

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The many lives of André Malraux

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via Apollo Magazine, 26 August 2017: A short biography of André Malraux, a Frenchman who was convicted of looting antiquities from Cambodia – from Banteay Srei! – and eventually became the French Minister of Culture! For more of his dastardly exploits in Cambodia, you should also check out this lecture by Dr Lia Genovese which was delivered at the Siam Society earlier this year.

In 1923 André Malraux (1901–76) was a young dandy with few achievements to his name, but he was already circulating in Parisian high society on the strength of his personality. To his new wife Clara Goldschmidt, he suggested an adventure in the Far East, which would allow them ‘to live to our standards, at least for a few years’. And so the young couple set off for what was then Indochina, travelling along the Mekong Delta to Cambodia, and the 10th-century Hindu temple Banteay Srei in Angkor, where Malraux and his old school friend Louis Chevasson walked in as curious tourists and walked out with Khmer-era sculptures under their arms. They pried them loose from the temples using chisels and picks with a plan to sell the stolen goods on the art markets in London or New York. But it was foiled before they could return to Europe. The French colonial police promptly arrested the pair and put them on trial in Phnom Penh. Malraux received a three-year prison sentence and Chevasson 18 months.

Source: The many lives of André Malraux | Apollo Magazine

Backyard looting in Cambodia

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Pottery at the Angkor Borei museum. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150808

The Phnom Penh Post has a feature on how looting of artefacts in Angkor Borei has become a cottage industry. It is heartbreaking to see on many levels – first, the locals do it in order to earn a bit of extra case but the cash isn’t that much at all. Secondly, this is a reminder to not buy artefacts, even from ‘reputed’ dealers in Thailand. They are almost certainly looted, and contributes nothing to the local economy.

Pottery at the Angkor Borei museum. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150808

Pottery at the Angkor Borei museum. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150808

Ancient treasures in the backyard
Phnom Penh Post, 08 August 2015

Angkor Borei – about 70km south of Phnom Penh – is thought to be the location of one of Southeast Asia’s earliest cities. But rather than being protected and studied, looting of the remaining artefacts has become a subsistence-level cottage industry for the current residents.

Cambodian antiquity and land laws deem all ancient artefacts state property, though Savorn said police turn a blind eye provided he keeps the digging on his own land.

While Sambath said most artefacts found their way to the global antiquities market via Thailand, Savorn said he had no idea who ultimately bought his wares. All he knew, he added, was that he sold the items to Khmer middlemen.

“The things that I find are not really valuable, only tiny bits of gold, and jars and pots I sell cheaply for around 3,000 to 4,000 riel,” he said, adding that the most he ever made was 50,000 riel ($12.50) from a gold piece.

Full story here.

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A historical guide to one of Bangkok’s canals

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Wat Yuan Saphan Khao. Source: Bangkok Post 20150423

A Bangkok Post feature on the historic Krung Kasem canal, which is quite near my workplace, and all the notable sights along it. At the end of the canal is the 600-year-old Wat Thewarat Kunchorn, which is just outside my workplace!

Wat Yuan Saphan Khao. Source: Bangkok Post 20150423

Wat Yuan Saphan Khao. Source: Bangkok Post 20150423

Streaming with history
Bangkok Post, 23 April 2015

Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem is likely to become one of Bangkok’s major transportation routes once again due to government support, and this may also benefit tourism. Building of the canal was commissioned by King Rama IV in 1851 to serve as the outer city moat. It runs in parallel with the first and second tiers of the city moat — Khlong Khumuang Doem and Khlong Rob Krung.

Wat Thewarat Kunchorn was a civil temple built during the Ayutthaya period and called Wat Samor Khraeng, or Thamor Khraeng. The word Thamor is a Khmer word meaning stone. In the reign of King Rama IV, the temple was renamed after the name of Prince Phitakdeves, who restored it. Its ordination hall houses the principal Buddha statue, Phra Phutthadevaraj Patimakorn, which is in the posture of subduing the Mara. Made in the Dvaravati period, it consists of metal and is covered with gold lacquer. On the interior walls are beautiful murals including the gathering of the Deva (guardian spirits), the Lord Buddha’s previous life as Phra Suvarnasam and monks looking at dead bodies. Behind the principal Buddha statue is the painting of this temple in the past before this ordination hall was constructed. Phra Vihara (prayer hall) enshrines nine Buddha statues of nine periods.

“This canal was dug with the aim of expanding the city,” said Rapeepat Ketkosol, an official at Bangkok Metropolitan Administration’s (BMA) tourism division. According to him, the canal is about 6km long. It was 3m deep initially, but grew shallower over time. It is now just over 2m deep.

On April 1 this year, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered the BMA to seek to develop Khlong Phadung Krung Kasem as a transportation and tourism route.

Full story here.

The German Wat Ratchaburana Safeguarding Project

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Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya, March 2015

Over the weekend I went to Ayutthaya to see the restoration works by the German team working at Wat Ratchaburana. This 15th century wat, built in Khmer style, features a lotus shaped prang (tower) that sets it apart from most of the temples in the complex, and most readers familiar with Khmer temple architecture would recognise it immediately.

Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya, March 2015

Wat Ratchaburana, Ayutthaya, March 2015

The German team, led by Prof. Hans Leisen, is just wrapping up their season this week, and I had a close look and appreciation for their work. The project began after the 2012 floods, and the focus started by looking at some of the stucco reliefs found at the lower levels of the temple. Remarkably, these reliefs were relatively undamaged as it turned out.

Prof. Hans Leisen, head of the German team working on the restoration of Wat Ratchaburana

Prof. Hans Leisen, head of the German team working on the restoration of Wat Ratchaburana

 

Stucco reliefs at the base of the temple.

Stucco reliefs at the base of the temple. These were the reliefs that were exposed to flood waters in 2012, but they seem to have survived relatively well.

The stucco on the upper levels of the building was another matter, and so the project has turned their attention there. At time of writing there was a scaffold built around the northern face of the main prang which gives researchers access to the features on the outside of the building.

View from the scaffold.

View from the scaffold.

Restoration on such a building is always a patchwork process. Various restoration works have been carried out over the years, by different agencies. This means there are several layers of restoration that can be seen in different parts of the building.

The face was restored the season before. Previous restoration have used concrete, while new processes now require that surfaces be cleaned extensively before any treatment. This leads to the building looking like a bit of a patchwork.

The southwest face was restored the season before. Previous restoration have used concrete, while new processes now require that surfaces be cleaned extensively before any treatment. This leads to the building looking like a bit of a patchwork.

Identical garuda, different corner. This one is located ion the northeast corner, and still has traces of the (presumably) original stucco on it, making its stabilisation even more important.

Identical garuda, different corner. This one is located ion the northeast corner, and still has traces of the (presumably) original stucco on it, making its stabilisation even more important.

Earlier restoration efforts have relied on cement to restore some of the features, with mixed results. Concrete is much harder than the brick and lime that the temple has been originally built, so this has caused more problems as the materials expand and contract at different rates, causing more fissures in the structure. Like Angkor, plants are also a problem as they can take root between the cracks and as they grow force the cracks to widen. This Garuda in the northeast corner is one such example.

These rubber bands anchoring the base of the northeast garuda are to prevent is from toppling - the cracks are formed by plants taking root between them and it takes a fair bit of work to get rid of all the plant matter.

These rubber bands anchoring the base of the northeast garuda are to prevent is from toppling – the cracks are formed by plants taking root between them and it takes a fair bit of work to get rid of all the plant matter.

Getting up the scaffold was a really cool experience (I haven’t done so since my MA research) and it was a real treat to see some of the architectural features up close. I also too the opportunity to give my quadcopter another spin and get a quick aerial video of the site.

Standing Buddha in the northern alcove. If you look carefully, you can see some of the red and gold pigments that have survived the passing of time.

Standing Buddha in the northern alcove. If you look carefully, you can see some of the red and gold pigments that have survived the passing of time.

Ayutthaya is about an hour away from Bangkok and a great day trip if you’re ever there, although, there are more than enough temples to make it more than a day.