Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The artisans of Angkor

The humble silkworm being bred at Puok for its beautiful thread
If you haven't been yet, I recommend a trip out to the Angkor Silk Farm at Puok, some 16kms west of Siem Reap. The free guided tours provided by Artisans d'Angkor take you through the silk-making process step by step, from the cultivation of mulberry trees that feed the silkworms, to removing the silk thread from the cocoons and then the natural dyeing and weaving of the silk into the gorgeous end products you can see for sale in their shop outlets. They even put on a free shuttle bus from town and have a silk museum, shop and cafe onsite. If you can make time in your schedule when visiting Siem Reap, do it. Closer to home, in Siem Reap town, is the AA's Chantiers-Ecoles craft workshops where you can see master craftsmen at work with stone, metal, wood, lacquer and silk painting. You've all seen the artistry in the boutiques and shops, so take a step back and see the process from the beginning, to fully understand the craftsmanship that goes into the final product. Find out more at their website.
Boiling the cocoons to produce the yellow thread
One of the many weaving looms at the Angkor Silk Farm
One of the large sheds where the weaving of the silk takes place at Puok
The silk museum onsite at the Angkor Silk Farm
Working with metal is just one the crafts at Artisans d'Angkor's Siem Reap center
A keen eye and a steady hand is required for woodworking
A wooden standing Buddha is being prepared by another craftsman. AA employs over 1,000 Cambodians.

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Tuesday, January 5, 2010

AA to the rescue

This Dec 2000 photo of the reclining Vishnu at Kbal Spean is the original 11th century carving
It was in the dead of night in March 2003 that thieves stole in and hacked off the upper body and head of Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi at Kbal Spean. No easy task as the site of the riverbed and its thousand lingas is a 40 minute hike from the main road. But that didn't stop the robbers and their chainsaw from removing the 11th century carving, which some experts believe may've sold for around $50,000 in Bangkok. I first visited Kbal Spean in late 2000 and the head of Vishnu was in place at that time - see my photo from that visit above. However, after the theft three years later, the ugly scar remained until the artists at Artisans d'Angkor came to the rescue of this beautiful carving and in August 2006, they replaced the missing Vishnu. Today, the reconstituted carving (see photo below) would appear to be an original unless you know its true history. The stone carvers at AA certainly know their stuff, though the face of Lakshmi is still missing. Kbal Spean was first discovered in the last 1960s and then re-opened to the public in 1998 after a long time in the doldrums, mainly due to the fragility of peace until late in the decade and the omnipresent threat of landmines. There are examples at Kbal Spean of other thefts, carvings ruined forever, mainly from the period when the authorities didn't have the manpower, the money or the will to keep watch over its priceless antiquities.
The same carving, photographed a few days ago, with the replacement Vishnu in place, carved by the artists of Artisans d'Angkor
A photo showing the destruction caused by the thieves in March 2003. Photo: Sebastien Berger

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Sunday, January 3, 2010

What a homecoming

My kinda night, surrounded by 4 lovely faces at 4Faces: LtoR: Nika, me, Kunthea, Somean, Liza
I'm literally just in the door and got a rare opportunity to watch Leeds United on television, accompanied by a chicken curry of course. Not only that but they beat Man United 1-0 in the FA Cup at Old Trafford and that has got to go down as their best result for years. I've been a Leeds fan since I was wet behind the ears but had little to shout about in recent years until tonight. So now I'm shouting. I spent the morning with my team from Hanuman visiting the Angkor Silk Farm at Puok and the Angkor Crafts Center in Siem Reap, both run by the folks at Artisans d'Angkor, who now employ over 1,000 Cambodians. They are a major success story and have a well-run operation at both centers that allows a fast-flow of tourists every day of the week. The rest of the day was spent on the bus making our return to Phnom Penh. Last night, the Hanuman staff party was a top-drawer success. Everyone had a great time and it was a great opportunity for the whole of the Hanuman operation to get together and have a whale of a time. And they did. I rolled in around 2am after popping into the 4Faces bar to catch the very end of their big night.
A view from behind Nick and Kulikar at last night's Hanuman staff party
During a lull in the dancing, this is Kunthea, who was my Madizone dance partner, at the Hanuman party
A quick stop at 4Faces to see the new exhibition with works by Geoff Croll and Jean Francois Perigois
Intense concentration from this female wood caver at Artisans d'Angkor at their Siem Reap center

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