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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

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