The Angkorian empire produced one of the most remarkable sculptural traditions in human history. Starting from Hindu and, to a lesser extent, Buddhist models, Khmer artists invented bold new techniques and sophisticated aesthetic principles that underpinned their exploration of anthropomorphic statuary. And yet the representational presuppositions of Western aesthetics only cloud our understanding of this innovation: perhaps art, in this context, does not stand in a mimetic relationship to the world, but rather itself constitutes an ‘original’, an embodied and multivalent reality that calls for a different relationship with its ‘viewer’.
This lecture will begin with a reflection on the Khmer ‘portrait statue’, considered in the traditional art history of ancient Cambodia to have been a late and peculiar invention of the reign of the last of the great Angkorian kings. However I will challenge this view, and indeed take the double ontology of these sculptures – embodying at once gods and people – to in fact constitute the baseline reality of essentially all Angkorian and post-Angkorian statuary.
Nothing is as it seems: even Angkor itself, this exemplary outlier of the Sanskrit ‘cosmopolis’ that flowered in the late first and early second millennia CE, is construed both as a fiercely singular local dominion and a universal kingdom. Microcosm and macrocosm are each set off against and magnified in the other. Within this context, a number of otherwise incongruous phenomena can be understood as manifestations of an underlying bifid structure: from the fluid ambiguity in the gendering of certain anthropomorphic representations to the determination with which religious practitioners, then as now, experience their own lives as participating in a larger cosmic life variously conveyed by art.
Another talk for readers in Bangkok – this one by Damian Evans on LiDAR in Angkor.
Using Airborne Laser Scanning to Uncover, Map and Analyse Ancient Landscapes in Cambodia & Beyond
A Talk by Dr. Damian Evans
Date: Thursday, 4 February 2016
Time: 7:30 p.m.
Venue: The Siam Society
Traditionally, scholarship on the Angkor period has focussed on three main areas: architecture, inscriptions and art history. In recent years however there has been increasing interest in the human and environmental context of the temples, and archaeologists are beginning to understand much more about the urban and
agricultural networks that stretched between and also far beyond the well-known monuments of places like Angkor. Even though the cities that surrounded the temples were made of wood, and the water management systems were mostly made of earth, we can still very clearly see and map the traces that remain on the surface of the landscape using remote sensing techniques such as aerial photos and satellite imagery. Until recently, however, archaeologists who focussed on the mapping methods faced one very serious limitation: the fact that vegetation covers much of the areas of interest, and limits our ability to see and map these ancient features. Since 2012 however archaeologists in Cambodia have been using the technique of airborne laser scanning or “lidar”, which has the unique ability to “see through” vegetation and map archaeological remains, even underneath thick forest or jungle. This presentation will outline past, present and future projects involving lidar, including presenting some preliminary results from the latest lidar campaign in 2015, which increased coverage from Angkor to include a wide array of sites across Cambodia, and discuss potential applications in other countries in Southeast Asia including Thailand.
Readers in Bangkok may be interested in this lecture happening this evening at the Jim Thompson House.
Life of the Buddha in the oldest Thai illustrated manuscripts
A lecture by Professor Baas Terwiel.
Date: Wednesday, 3 February 2016
Time: 5 – 7 p.m.
Venu: Ayara Hall, The Jim Thompson House Museum Compound
The legends surrounding the life of Siddhartha Gotama, also known as the Buddha, have inspired an immense artistic output in all Buddhist countries. In this lecture Professor Terwiel will focus on depictions on paper folding books from Thailand, in particular material from the oldest preserved Thai picture books:samutphap traiphum (สมุดภาพ ไตรภูมิ), or the Picture Books of the Three Worlds. He will look at how the major events of the Buddha’s life were thematized, and he will also address matters of style. Then he will tentatively formulate some principles of Thai iconography and characteristics of the Thai visual arts in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries A.D.
Professor Terwiel will conduct his lecture in English.”, but a Thai translation will be handed out.
Prior to his retirement in 2006, Baas Terwiel was Professor of Thai and Lao Languages and Literatures at the University of Hamburg, having previously taught in Canberra, Munich and Leiden. In the late 1960s, he conducted fieldwork on Buddhism in rural Thailand and, since then, has published extensively on many aspects of Thai history, religion and politics. His publications included Monks And Magic. An Analysis of Religious Ceremonies in Central Thailand (1976), reprinted for the fourth time in 2012, Thailand’s Political History. From the 13th Century to Recent Times (2011) “Siam”. Ten Ways to look at Thailand’s Past (2012)
Readers in Los Angeles might be interested in the colloquium by Dr Chen Chenratana on the rise and fall of Angkor.
The Rise and Fall of the Khmer Empire during the Angkor period, 9th to 15th century A.D.
Colloquium with Dr. CHEN Chanratana, University of Cambodia
Date: February 16, 2016
Time: 12:30 PM – 2:00 PM
Venue: 10383 Bunche Hall, UCLA Campus, Los Angeles, CA
Archaeological research in Cambodia began in the late 19th century following the rediscovery of the lost jungle capital of the Khmer Empire by French explorers. The artistic and architectural magnificence of the Khmer civilization immediately attracted the greatest scholars of France and Europe. American and Asian scholars later joined the mission to better understand this brilliant culture. People from around the world participated in grand efforts to map, excavate and restore ancient structures and countless studies, articles and books were published about the Khmer.
Tragically, war in Southeast Asia during the 1970s stopped academic progress for nearly 25 years. Cambodia did not begin to recover until the early 1990s when the present government restored order in the nation. In 1994, Angkor Wat was registered as a World Heritage site attracting many international heritage groups to Cambodia and the Angkor region. Working with local experts from Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts and the APSARA Authority these organizations are once again continuing the mission to restore and preserve the legacy of Khmer temples and heritage.
The presentation will focus on the Rise and the Fall of the Khmer Empire during the Angkor period, from the 9th to 15th centuries A.D., drawing on the most recent research findings from local and international institutions.
Last month, I was in Singapore to give a talk at TEDx Singapore which had the theme of “The Unsdicovered Country”. The original name for this talk was “The Art that you don’t see”, and it’s focused on a series of unfoldings, first about the rock art you didn’t know existed in Southeast Asia, and then to the art you couldn’t see without digital enhancement, culminating to my discovery of the Angkor Wat paintings that was announced last year.
A lecture by Prof. Kenneth Hall next week at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore.
Documenting Southeast Asia’s Pre-1500 Past: Contested Agencies in the Extended Eastern Indian Ocean, c. 500–1500
by Kenneth Hall
Date: 18 November 2015
Time: 3.00 – 4.30pm
Venue: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies Singapore
This presentation will address Southeast Asia’s evolutionary international importance c. 500–1500, when the Southeast Asia region became a major source, consumer, and intermediary in the Indian Ocean maritime trade, diplomatic, and knowledge networks prior to significant European contact. Movements of variable goods, ideas, and people through the Southeast Asia extended Indian Ocean maritime passageway, made possible by seasonal monsoon winds, had regional and wider consequence that resulted in new Southeast Asia patterns of networked urbanization, diplomacy, trade, religion, and emigration that intersected and interacted to create a Southeast Asian world that had not previously existed. This study is focal on Southeast Asia’s initiatives in contrast to prior views that have seen early Southeast Asia societies subject to the external agencies of Chinese, South Asians, and Middle Easterners. In recent years new regional archaeological and shipwreck recoveries have allowed the re-reading of other primary sources, including contemporary epigraphic, chronicle, and fictional literary compositions as these collectively document Southeast Asia’s contributions to the pre-1500 “borderless” Indian Ocean world. In this critical era transitional Southeast Asian societies assumed entrepreneurial roles in the adoption and adaptations of Indian, Chinese, and Middle Eastern concepts and constructions to pre-existing social and economic patterns, from scripts and languages to literary genres and motifs, from religious texts and discourses to associated art and architectural forms, as these were associated with new state, commercial, religious, societal, and urban networking patterns.
For many cultures, it is commonplace to talk about death and rebirth as intimately linked one to he other, even as infinite cycles in Indian or Indianized cultures.
My aim here is to demonstrate how in Khmer contexts death-rebirth is iconographically symbolized by a demon called Reahu who is believed to cause eclipses. This demon is represented in various forms, especially in funerals. But it also appears that Reahu is quite often sculpted on monuments of ancient Cambodia, which may help us to better understand the meaning of the latter.