Prof. Ashley Thompson Inaugural Lecture – Double Realities: The Complex Lives of Ancient Khmer Statuary

Readers in London may be interested in Ashley Thompson’s lecture in early May. Booking required.

Prof. Ashley Thompson Inaugural Lecture – Double Realities: The Complex Lives of Ancient Khmer Statuary
Date: 5 May 2016
Venue: Brunei Gallery
Time: 6.30 pm

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.

More details and booking information here.

Vietnamese man sets up virtual 3D sculpture museum

Now that 3D scanning is well and truly a thing, A Vietnamese man has set up a virtual museum showcasing sculptural treasures from Vietnam – check out the museum here.

Vietnamese 3D museum. Source:, 20151030
Vietnamese 3D museum. Source:, 20151030

VR3D launches Vietnam’s first virtual museum with 3D scans of ancient relics, 30 October 2015

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.

Full story here.

Artefacts returned to Cambodia

Cambodia recently celebrated the return of 11 artefacts to the country, including two that were returned by a Norwegian businessman.

Artefacts returned to Cambodia. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20151021
Artefacts returned to Cambodia. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20151021

Artefacts returned by collector
Phnom Penh Post, 21 October 2015

Norwegian returns 2 stolen stone statues to Cambodia
AP, via the Herald, 20 October 2015

Two Ancient Artifacts To Be Returned by Norwegian Collector
VOA Cambodia, 16 October 2015

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.

Full story here and here.

Statues discovered near Banteay Srey

Two small statues dating to the 10th century were discovered in Banteay Srey last week during the excavation of a water channel.

Source: Phnom Penh Post 20151013
Source: Phnom Penh Post 20151013

Angkor worksite reveals 2 statues
Phnom Penh Post, 06 October 2015

Authorities at the Angkor Temple Complex in Siem Reap province yesterday announced the discovery of two statues dating from the 10th century, uncovered during the digging of a water channel.

In a statement released on its website, the Apsara Authority, which runs and manages the Unesco World Heritage site, said the two statues will be sent to archaeologists for research purposes.

“We found them while digging a small canal around the Banteay Srey temple,” said Apsara Authority spokesperson Chao Sun Kerya.

The canal is intended to hold rainwater runoff currently gathering in the temple.

Full story here.

Cambodian military official caught smuggling statues out of the country

A Cambodian official was caught smuggling three statues out of the country when he was checked by the customs officials at the Thai border.

Statues confiscated at the Thai-Cambodian border. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150427
Statues confiscated at the Thai-Cambodian border. Source: Phnom Penh Post 20150427

Statues seized at border
Phnom Penh Post, 27 April 2015

Army Officer Smuggling Statues Into Thailand Caught at Border
Cambodia Daily, 27 April 2015

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.

Full story here.

Large sculpture found near Wat Phu

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.

Wat Phu

Pre-Angkorian archaeological treasure sees light in southern Laos
Xinhua, 18 March 2015

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

Full story here.

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‘Foreign’ lion ban brings about confusion

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.

Source: Viet Nam Net 20150113
Source: Viet Nam Net 20150113

Ministry orders removal of foreign-style stone lions
Viet Nam Net, 13 January 2015
Continue reading “‘Foreign’ lion ban brings about confusion”

Statues discovered underneath Vietnamese temple

Four statues have been discovered underneath a 700-year-old pagoda in Viet Nam’s Quang Binh province.

Ancient statues discovered under Quang Binh pagoda
Viet Nam News, 13 December 2014
Continue reading “Statues discovered underneath Vietnamese temple”

Massive statue heads found at Banteay Chhmar

Giant statue heads have been found at Banteay Chhmar, protected because they were buried underneath half a metre of soil laid by repeated flooding.

Statues found at Banteay Chmar. Phnom Penh Post 20141118
Statues found at Banteay Chhmar. Phnom Penh Post 20141118

Three statue heads unearthed
Phnom Penh Post, 18 November 2014
Continue reading “Massive statue heads found at Banteay Chhmar”

Vietnamese lions on display

An exhibition on Vietnamese lions from the last 1,000 years are on display at the Viet Nam Museum of Fine Arts.

Ly Dynasty Stone Lion. Source: 20141108
Ly Dynasty Stone Lion. Source: 20141108

Sacred animals reveal the true Viet Nam
Viet Nam News, 08 November 2014
Continue reading “Vietnamese lions on display”