Saturday, April 17, 2010

90 years old this month

An old postcard showing the opening ceremony in 1920
April 1920 saw the opening of the National Museum of Cambodia. Kent Davis at his website has the inside story and pictures from Nicole Groslier, daughter of the museum's designer and first conservator, celebrating the museum's 90th anniversary.

A far less welcome anniversary, is the arrival in Phnom Penh 35 years ago today, of the Khmer Rouge to begin a period of Cambodian history that has affected every member of the population. Within days the city's inhabitants had been forced out into the countryside and Phnom Penh became a virtual ghost town. The rest is history of the worst possible kind.

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Cultural stuff

There are changes afoot at the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Ms Ou Phalline has taken over as director of the museum from Hab Touch, who has been responsible for many positive changes and improvements at the museum during his long tenure. He has been appointed Director-General in charge of the Department General of Cultural Affairs, which oversees just about everything to do with Khmer art and culture. Find out more at
The team from Khmer Arts Ensemble, currently in Northern India
On the subject of culture, whilst the stage at Chaktomuk Theatre has been groaning under the weight of various performance groups during the last two weeks of the national performing arts festival, a small team from Khmer Arts Ensemble has been over in Northern India promoting classical Cambodian dance. 4 dancers and 2 musicians accompanied by manager Chanveasna Chum have been performing since 21 February and until 12 March alongwith 150 other artists from Thailand, Indonesia and the northeastern states of India, entertaining audiences in various cities with traditional dances to showcase the art and culture of each area.
This Thursday at 6.30pm, a music concert featuring the great and the good of Cambodia popular music will take place at Olympic Stadium. It's free, sponsored by Smart Mobile and will host such luminaries as Preap Sovath, Meas Soksophea, Sokun Nisa and a host of other local favourites. Don't say I didn't tell you.

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Monday, October 5, 2009

Collins in town

Today began with a conversation with one of the most interesting people you are likely to meet in Cambodia. Darryl Collins (right) is a mine of information. Our conversation centered mainly on the National Museum, here in Phnom Penh and the work going on behind the scenes to document the museum's amazing collection of artifacts, which number upwards of 19,000, though only 2,000 are on show at any one time. He was full of praise for the professional way that the director Hab Touch has brought the museum up by the scruff of its neck, though it remains reliant on grants and individual contributions to maintain itself. The Collection Inventory Project is a labour of love that has been on-going now for a couple of years and which Darryl has been instrumental in training the project team of nine people. It is the first real attempt to catalogue, photograph and stock-take the museum's collection and an absolutely vital task to ensure the provenance of the collection as well as a window on the artifacts that have disappeared over the years. You can read more about the CIP on the museum's excellent website. Darryl now resides in Siem Reap and was joint author with Helen Grant Ross of the book, Building Cambodia: New Khmer Architecture 1953-1970. He began work on the CIP in 2004 after completing five years as a lecturer at the Royal University of Fine Arts. He's also known for relocating a 100 year old historic Chinese-Khmer wooden house, piece by piece, from an island in Kompong Cham to its new home in Siem Reap.

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Ancestors of Angkor

The National Museum in Phnom Penh will tonight open a brand new exhibition called The Ancestors of Angkor, which will display the results of recent research into the prehistory of the Angkor region in the shape of a 3,000 year old skeleton, pottery shards and a recreation of an excavation site. The EFEO excavated two sites in the Angkor Park; a 2,000 year old village located next to the Western Baray and an older burial site, uncovered when the baray dried up during 2004 and 2005, and their findings form the exhibit, the first of its kind on the pre-Angkor period. The exhibition is located in the museum's north wing and will run through to the end of the year.
I had an unexpected but very welcome visitor to my office today in the form of my god-daughter Vansy (above), who I haven't seen for quite a few months. She's been kept busy with her school studies but she found time to pop in and update me on how she's doing at school and I updated her on my recent activities including my flying visit to Singapore for my medical emergency and my subsequent trip to Preah Vihear and beyond. It was great to see her again, she looked happy and healthy and obviously life in the big city is treating her well. She told me all about her Khmer New Year spent with her family in her village in Kien Svay district and we'll catch up again sometime soon.

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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Returning home

LtoR: Hun Sen, demon head, Abhisit Vejjajiva (Thai PM): Pic Reuters.
The return of a Khmer treasure from Thailand - a mere drop in the ocean of Khmer artifacts held over the border either by the authorities or in antique shops - took place between the two leaders of Cambodia and Thailand yesterday, before the start of an Asean summit in Pattaya. It's the head of a demon from one of Angkor Thom's monumental gates most likely and is one of seven similar pieces that will be handed back to Cambodia next week, when the Thai PM visits Phnom Penh. The Thais have stacks more but they expect Cambodia to jump through hoops and provide irrefutable evidence that the items were stolen from Cambodia. I get very annoyed when I hear about Khmer artifacts held overseas, in foreign museums and elsewhere. They should be residing in museums in this country. Full stop. The only reason Khmer artifacts should be overseas is in the form of travelling exhibitions. One such exhibition, Bronzes from the National Museum, will take place in Washington DC from May next year, when 38 bronze sculptures - out of 6,800 held at the National Museum - will go on display as part of efforts to promote Asian art. Let's hope they all make it back home afterwards.

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