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.
One of the greatest old-world-meets-new applications of 3D scanning and 3D printing technology is the potential for cultural and historical preservation. The ability to document and preserve precious artifacts in their current state, including distinctive marks, surface textures and coloration all in the finest of detail, means that even with the passing of time, natural disasters, or damage, future generations can appreciate and learn from the past. When he was just 17 years old, Quang Tri Nguyen recognized the importance of preserving Vietnamese culture—one of the oldest in Southeast Asia—and went so far as to drop out of school to dedicate his life to 3D scanning, documenting, and publishing digital 3D models of ancient Vietnamese sculptures on his website, VR3D.
Cambodian antiquities, including two Angkor-era statues, were returned to the government by a Norwegian private art collector at a ceremony at the National Museum in Phnom Penh yesterday.
The 11 artworks – the most valuable of which were a ninth century Preah Ko-style head of Shiva and a late 12th century Bayon-style male divinity – were handed over by businessman Morten Bosterud at an event presided over by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Hom Namhong.
“I see myself not as a donor but as a returner of these art objects to their true owner,” Bosterud said. “I have had time to have a brief look around this museum and it made me realise that my decision was correct, and that my previous thoughts of being a caretaker of these objects was not correct.”
He added that he was certain the National Museum would take good care of the objects, display them to the public and use them for educational purposes.
A military official was arrested in Thailand on Saturday after smuggling three statues across the border from Banteay Meanchey province in his car, officials said Sunday.
Prak Sa, chief of the Boeung Trakuon border checkpoint in Banteay Meanchey’s O’Chrou district, said that Soeun Oeun, 49—an intelligence officer from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ Region 5 in Battambang province—was arrested at about 5 p.m., just after passing through screening on the Cambodian side of the checkpoint.
“We were careless with checking his car, in which he had hidden three ancient statues, but he was arrested by Thai border police,” Mr. Sa said. He said Mr. Oeun regularly went through the checkpoint in O’Beichoan commune to purchase food or gasoline in Thailand.
“The suspect goes back and forth every day,” he said, adding that Cambodian border police had never had reason to suspect nefarious activity.
A large stone sculpture dating to the 7th century has been discovered near the Wat Phu complex of Southern Laos. The nature of the artefact is uncertain, but from the description of the shape it sounds like a lintel.
A large 7th century artifact described as one of the most significant archaeological items ever found in Laos has been unearthed at a world heritage site in the country’s south, local media reported Wednesday.
The discovery was made during archaeological excavations at Phou Kao, a mountain site associated with the UNESCO World Heritage Listed Vat Phou complex in the southern province of Champassak, state-run media Vientiane Times reported.
The piece, featuring carvings of figures from Hindu mythology, measures 2.2 meters by 90 centimeters wide.
The 22-cm-thick sculpture was located under a 20-cm layer of debris
A recent ban on ‘foreign’ non-Vietnamese lions has caused confusion among temple and heritage custodians; the aim behind the ban was intended to restore the purity of Vietnamese culture, but this move has met with resistance from people who (understandably) don’t want things to change, and staff who cannot distinguish between ‘local’ and ‘foreign’ lions.