At the Bakong, conservators work to restore recent Buddhist paintings

The Phnom Penh Post features an unusual form of conservation going on at the Bakong in Angkor – that of 19th and 20th century Buddhhist paintings on the walls of working monasteries.

Restoring history through art
Phnom Penh, 16 July 2010

While almost all of the restoration at the Angkor temples revolves around the ancient Khmer edifices, at Bakong there is also a restoration team working on 20th century buildings in the complex – the “working” monasteries as such.

Some of these monasteries in Cambodia are festooned with dozens of brightly rendered religious wall paintings highlighting often lurid scenes from the life of Buddha and the Jatakas (tales of the previous lives of the Buddha). Often, however, these paintings are overlooked or dismissed as kitsch, unworthy of being classified as serious art. Some of the more gruesome paintings, sort of Bosch-gone-Buddhist renderings, are often rejected as grotesqueries.

But that’s not the viewpoint of Restaurateurs Sans Frontiere, a cultural NGO established in 1981 that began work at the Bakong site in 2007 at the instigation of Dr Vittorio Roveda, co-author of the book Buddhist Painting in Cambodia.


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Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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