‘FOUND Cambodia’ is a project that traces some of the sociocultural changes Cambodia has witnessed since 1979. It is a constantly growing archive of everyday Cambodian photography, brought to light from individuals’ and families’ drawers, albums, and closets. The images provide a vernacular lens to how individuals in post-Khmer Rouge Cambodia have experienced the social and cultural revival following the regime’s fall. Further, the project also includes photographs taken before the Khmer Rouge came into power. These images serve as poignant testimonies of the effects that macroscopic socio-political changes bear on the individual. A unique glimpse into Cambodians’ day-to-day lives over the past four decades, ‘FOUND Cambodia’ serves as a visual archive for anyone interested in understanding societal changes through the eyes of an individual.
Lineage and Legitimacy: Exploring Royal-Familial Visual Configurations in Cambodia by Joanna Wolfarth in Trans-Asia Photography Review, vol. 8, n° 1, Fall 2017 : Art and Vernacular Photographies in Asia
As with those of many other rulers, the portrait of Norodom Sihanouk (1922–2012), the former king of Cambodia, has been used at various times in order to convey his sovereign status. This was particularly true of his official portrait, which remains a common presence in both public and private spaces throughout Cambodia. This portrait and multiple versions of it were put to work with press photographs and newsreels of Sihanouk engaged with everyday life, along with the king’s own cinematic oeuvre, to create a visual landscape that reinforced his central presence in Cambodia’s spiritual, social, and political life. All versions of Sihanouk’s official portrait comprise a head and shoulder shot, with his face slightly angled to the side and his gaze focused on a space beyond the frame. He wears a suit and tie, although their colors vary. In some versions the digital manipulation is minimal and lines are visible on his face; in others, the portrait has been more obviously altered and his face becomes shadow-less and wrinkle-free, his hair a solid gray mass. The official portrait is often accompanied by those of his wife, Monineath, and his son, King Sihamoni, presenting a royal-familial triad expressing kingship, past and present.
This paper explores this royal-familial portrait-triad by probing how and why legitimacy and lineage are expressed through visual representations of family ties. Consideration will be given to examples of historical antecedents and the particulars of their resurrection in twentieth-century Cambodia. I suggest that there is a structural power inherent within triadic configurations and that such an arrangement reinforces dynamics of legitimacy. Indeed, longstanding notions of political order in Cambodia are grounded within the triune of Nation, Religion, and King. Often more complex, multidirectional flows of power are expressed in these visual configurations, whereby the authority of the sovereign son strengthens that of his parents, which enables the son to retroactively inherit the power conferred upon his ancestors. Although the right to royal inheritance is “in the blood,” royal succession in Cambodia is not tied strictly to primogeniture and thus there are often competing heirs to the throne, meaning lineage and legitimacy must be more forcefully articulated. This paper will also consider the materiality of the images in question: how such portraits are replicated, disseminated, and displayed.
« Ancient Guardian Statue Recovered at the Tonle Snguot Hospital site », 02/08/2017, Nalanda-Sriwijaya Centre
An ancient guardian statue was recovered at the Tonle Snguot hospital site north of Angkor Thom by the APSARA Authority and Singapore’s ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute’s Nalanda – Sriwijaya Centre (NSC) Archaeological Field School team. This is a unique find because the statue is almost complete. It is a late 12th century sandstone statue and measures approximately two meters in height. The statue belongs to the famed Bayon style. Bayon style is associated with King Jayavarman VII. It was recovered on the second day of research by the archaeology team (29 July 2017) after being identified by APSARA archaeologists working with the NSC Field School.
There are often two guardian statues (or carved images) depicted in front of ancient temples. Although Jayavarman VII was a Buddhist, the statues are usually associated with both ancient Buddhism and Brahmanism (Hindu) in Cambodian temples. The archaeology team was there to investigate ancient hospital activities, habitation and structures. There is often a temple that likely served for spiritual healing and praying area. The treatment area is possibly a separate location in the complex. Medical treatment is depicted on the stone carvings at the Bayon temple. Ancient inscriptions also describe the nurses, doctors, guards, cooks and other people.
The statue will be transported to the Preah Norodom Sihanouk Angkor Museum because of its importance. This was in collaboration with the APSARA Heritage Police and local community authorities.
« New book traces bokator’s historic roots » by HS Manjunath, 03/07/2017, The Phnom Penh Post
As Cambodia awaits Unesco’s verdict on Angkor-era bokator getting its due as a World Heritage tangible asset of humanity, a new book on the martial art was released three days ago to enhance its historic, cultural and social impact on the Kingdom’s way of life.
Penned by 70-year-old grandmaster San Kim Sean, who after the brutal Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s revived bokator to its present status as a national treasure, the book offers spectacular insight into how and why this particular fighting style has been such an integral part of Cambodian life for well over 1,000 years.
According to the National Olympic Committee of Cambodia (NOCC), the book serves the dual purpose of documenting bokator’s history over the centuries and makes a strong case as to why it should be promoted among the next generations and preserved as a tangible asset of humanity.
“It has taken me more than 10 years to complete this work. Artefacts in the Angkor Wat temple complex depict hundreds of techniques of which I have chosen a bunch of traditional ones to highlight while tracing the roots of bokator as deeply as possible,” Kim Sean told The Post from Siem Reap, where he heads the Kingdom’s first bokator academy.
« Angkor Wat Apsara and Devata : Khmer women in divine context» by Jana Igunma, 05/07/2017, Southeast Asia Library Group (SEALG)
Angkor Wat Apsara and Devata : Khmer women in divine context is a rich and well researched online resource dedicated to the women of the Khmer Empire (9th-15th century). Being great builders, the Khmer filled the landscape with monumental temples, huge reservoirs and canals, and laid an extensive network of roads with bridges. Angkor Wat is the best known and most stunning temple. It is, in fact, a microcosm of the Hindu universe. Covering 200 hectares it is the world’s largest religious complex. Its construction was started by the Khmer king Suryavarman II around 1122 CE and took some 30 years to complete. The walls of Angkor Wat house a royal portrait gallery with 1,795 women realistically rendered in stone. Although the temple complex has been researched extensively in terms of architecture, art and archaeology, not much is known about these women.
Devata.org aims to provide answers to questions like:
Who were the women of Angkor Wat?
Why are images of women immortalized with the most prominent placement in the largest temples the Khmer civilization ever built?
What did these women mean to the Khmer rulers, priests and people?
How does the Cambodian dance tradition relate to the women of Angkor Wat?
Do the women of Angkor Wat embody information important to us in modern times?
This online resource gives access to articles about books and authors relating to Khmer history, Cambodian dance, children of Angkor, women’s history and heritage preservation. The focus, however, is on the women of Angkor Wat and other Khmer temples. Features like an Angkor Wat Devata Inventory, the Devata Database Project, Facial Pattern Recognition of the Angkor Wat portraits, photo galleries and a range of research articles provide insight into the rich culture of the Khmer people.
Photographing the Soul of Cambodia: Interview with Sophal Neak by Francesca Masoero, 04/07/2017 in ArtAsiaPacific
Sophal Neak was born in Takeo, a province in southern Cambodia, in 1989. Since 2011, her works—in particular her photographs—have been showcased across Asia, Europe and Australia. Her unique and uncompromising take on history and people, as well as her distinctive and powerful vision, has played an important role in contributing to the cultural re-awakening of her country. In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific, the photographer discusses her art and creative processes, her take on gender in Cambodia and more.
“Flowers,” your most recent exhibition, is currently being showcased in Phnom Penh, but your work has travelled quite a bit across the globe. How do you feel about the fact that your photographs are allowing more people to get to know Cambodia?
Allowing people outside Cambodia to understand the complexity of my country is really important, but I’d actually like my work to serve as a certain reminder for the Khmer people as well. Most Cambodians tend to stick with the traditional culture and perceptions. This includes, for example, that women have to be young and beautiful, or that they have to cook and have children. By drawing attention to these concepts in my work, I try to raise the awareness of viewers and invite them to move forward from these ideas.
« Murder and black magic: Cambodia’s modern-day witch-hunts » by Paul Millar, 06/07/2017, Southeast Asia Globe
A single word from one of Cambodia’s traditional healers can turn a whole community against outsiders in their ranks – often with fatal results.
… With the country’s feeble healthcare system struggling to keep up with the undiagnosed death and disease plaguing rural Cambodians, kru khmer or lou kru – wide-reaching terms describing traditional healers ranging from fortune tellers to spirit mediums – continue to play a central role across the country. Men and women, monks and laity, these healers call spirits into their bodies, ink protection spells onto their patients’ skin and root out black magic within the community – sometimes to devastating effect. In Kong Pisei alone, which has a population of just under 113,000 as of the 2008 census, two other alleged sorcerers have been beheaded in the past two years. Others accused of witchcraft have barely managed to escape with their lives.
On the second day of Khmer New Year in April, Prak Kong and his wife were forced to flee their home in Kong Pisei’s Prey Vihear commune just hours before a mob of villagers tore their house apart with hammers and rocks. As the crowd swelled to more than 600, the most violent attackers splintered the family’s spirit house and splashed petrol around the inside of the house, hoping to set it ablaze. According to Kong’s brother-in-law, who now lives there, the violence was unleashed by a local kru khmer who had accused the man of using sorcery to murder his newborn nephew-in-law.
“The problem started before the water festival [last year],” he said. “[His relative’s] child died after surgery. They wanted to find out why their child died so they went to see a lou kru. The lou kru gave him Kong’s name. They said he was responsible for the child’s death.”
Fabienne Luco, a social anthropologist in Cambodia who has done extensive research on the killing of people accused of being sorcerers, said that kru khmer often used accusations of witchcraft to provide a scapegoat for suffering or chronic disease within the community.
Vintage Photographs Capture the Beauty of Classical Dance by Michelle Vachon, 15/06/2017, The Cambodia Daily
When George Groslier first approached Nou Nam in March 1927 with the idea of photographing her while she performed Khmer classical dance, she refused. “People no longer know how to dance, she told me with disdain,” he later wrote.
A few minutes later, the dancer—a favorite of both King Norodom and King Sisowath—relented.
Then in her 50s, Nou Nam agreed to help the photographer archive Khmer classical dance movements in photographic form.
As he began to capture the former star dancer, George Groslier realized that “the hand stops two centimeters higher than on Wednesday, and the head turns two degrees more than in Nou Nam’s day,” showing how the dance form had evolved.
For Khmer classical dancers whose slightest movements are painstakingly executed, this was profoundly troubling. Master dancers watching Nou Nam became agitated, he wrote.
Capturing these changing styles for posterity was Groslier’s goal. He wanted to provide a historical record for generations to come.
Exposition : « Avec les danseuses royales du Cambodge », 15/06/2017 au 07/09/2017, Galerie de l’Institut Français du Cambodge
En 1927, George Groslier, directeur du musée National, entreprend pour conserver la mémoire des postures de danse du ballet royal, un exceptionnel travail de documentation photographique. Longtemps resté à l’écart, le corpus de négatifs sur verre a été récemment catalogué et numérisé. Après leur présentation au Musée National du Cambodge en 2012 puis à New York, Paris et Siem Reap, ces photographies sont exposées à l’Institut Français du Cambodge.
Exposition conçue par le MNC et l’EFEO à Phnom Penh (avec le soutien de l’IFC et de l’UNESCO)
Local poll leaves Hun Sen looking vulnerable in 2018 election by Duncan McCargo, 08/06/2017, Nikkei Asian Review
Cambodia’s ruling party needs to woo disenchanted voters to retain hold on power.
The preliminary results of Cambodia’s June 4 local elections for its commune councils offer ambiguous signals for an all-important general election scheduled for July 2018.
Much depends on the choice of benchmark. In the 2012 elections for commune council chiefs, Prime Minister Hun Sen’s ruling Cambodian People’s Party secured overwhelming control of local government, winning 1,592 contests with more than 70% of the vote, compared with just 40 contests won by opposition parties, which secured about 30% of the vote.
By this standard, the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party’s twelvefold increase to 482 commune victories in 2017 is a remarkable turnaround, helped by the merger of the two opposition parties that challenged the ruling party in 2012.
« Photographer Captures Intimacy of Daily Life in Cambodia » by Michelle Vachon, 02/05/2017, The Cambodia Daily
When French-Canadian photographer Serey Siv embarked on a project two years ago to photograph ordinary life across small-town Cambodia, his goal was far from simple.
Assuming the role of an observer, he sought to capture the “timeless” side of life in the country: the small episodes in people’s daily lives that could have taken place in the 1960s or on Monday. To better set the photographs out of time, he shot in black and white.
“I played a bit with this notion of past and present,” he said on Friday.
An exhibition of Mr. Siv’s series, “La balade de Serey,” or “Serey’s Stroll,” opens today in Siem Reap City.
It took a year for Mr. Siv to capture the images of daily life, waiting to seize the moments as they happened in the “beautiful natural light” that occurs for only a few hours each day. The result is images in which the gray and black tones make the scenes all the more striking and create a quiet intimacy with the people portrayed, drawing in the viewer.
New photo exhibition takes on Cambodian gender double standards by Anna Koo, 05/05/2017, The Phnom Penh Post
Neak Sophal’s Flower opens at Java Café and Gallery at 6:30pm on Tuesday, May 9. The exhibition, which will be displayed on the second floor of the café, runs through June 25.
The series, which was the product of six months work, is based on a Khmer saying that compares women to white paper and men to gold. If gold were dropped in the mud, the saying goes, it could be polished and cleaned and will never tarnish.
White paper, meanwhile, gets permanently stained and, once considered dirty, no longer has value. The proverb is a not-so-subtle reminder of the need for women to behave themselves sexually, or else they “lose their value”.
“If you are virginal, you are a valued woman. If you don’t have it, you are not a good woman . . . For me, it is an unacceptable comparison, because women and men are human and we live together,” she says.
Gender studies has long been a subject of interest for the 28-year-old Royal University of Fine Arts graphic design graduate. Her distinctive conceptual style results in work that often serves as social commentary, highlighting what she sees as invisible social issues in Cambodian culture.
She won the Photo Prize at the Angkor Photo Festival in 2013 with her exhibition The Hang On, featuring subjects from all walks of life in Cambodia with their faces obscured by objects, usually related to their jobs, which have overtaken their identity.
In Sophal’s images, the subjects are framed by flowers a motif inspired by the frequent comparisons in songs, movies and stories of women to flowers. She then drops paint on the photograph to produce her final product, to prove that stains do not always have to be dirty and can be an element of beauty itself…
Julian Kirchherr, Nathanial Matthews, Katrina J. Charles, Matthew J. Walton, “Learning it the Hard Way”: Social safeguards norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, Energy Policy, vol. 102, March 2017
Very first regional case study on social safeguard norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.
Found that Chinese dam developers increasingly take into account international social safeguards norms.
Root cause is social mobilization, with the suspension of the Myitsone Dam in 2011 as a particular game changer.
Chinese dam developers claim to construct at least every second dam worldwide. However, scholarly literature comprehensively investigating the social safeguard norms in these projects is rare. This paper analyses social safeguard norms in Chinese-led dam projects in Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, hotspots of Chinese-led dam construction. We find that social safeguard norms adopted have significantly changed in the past 15 years. While Chinese dam developers claimed to adopt standards of the host countries upon the launch of China’s Going Out Policy in 2001, with occasional adoption of more demanding Chinese standards, they did not adopt international norms. In recent years, however, they increasingly take into account international norms. We argue that the root cause for this change is social mobilization, with the suspension of the Myitsone Dam in 2011 as a particular game changer. Enhanced social safeguard legislation in host countries and China, stricter rules of Chinese funders and cooperation of Chinese dam developers with international players have also facilitated this change.
Podcast : Cambodia’s Cultural Revival, The Cultural frontline, 15/04/2017, BBC World Service
Four decades after the Khmer Rouge genocide during which almost 90 percent of the country’s finest artists, musicians and intellectuals were wiped out, an extraordinary cultural revival and vibrant contemporary arts scene is emerging in Cambodia. We hear from the young artists at the forefront of this revival.
Kavich Neang, one of Cambodia’s hottest young filmmakers discusses his forthcoming film about the iconic White Building in Phnom Penh whose evolution tells the story of modern Cambodia.
The young radio host, relationship guru and social media celebrity DJ Nana describes how her outspoken advice on sex and relationships is breaking social taboos and has earned her a UN award for empowering young women.
Arn Chorn-Pound, musician, Khmer Rouge survivor and founder of Cambodian Living Arts explains why it’s important to pass on the traditional Cambodian arts to a new generation and how music has saved his life.
Channthy Kak, dubbed Cambodia’s Amy Winehouse and the lead singer of the rock group Cambodian Space Project, talks about her rise to fame from a poor village girl with no education or musical training.
And Sok Sangvar, in charge of tourism at Angkor Wat, explains how he is reducing the impact of tourism on the ancient temples that represent the soul of Cambodian culture.
Approaches to the Study of Khmer and Cham Art: a Research Workshop with Tran Ky Phuong and Soumya James, 16/05/2017, CSEAS, SOAS.
Scholarship on ancient Khmer and Cham art evolved concomitantly with the French colonial project, and has long been grounded in archaeological and epigraphic study. This workshop presents new currents of research expanding the field. Tran Ky Phuong is the leading scholar of Cham art. After a first curatorial career at the Danang Museum of Cham Sculpture, he joined the Vietnam Association of Ethnic Minorities’ Culture and Arts, where he has launched research combining ethnographic and art historical methods. Soumya James represents a new generation of Southeast Asia art historians. Her work examines the representation of the divine feminine in cultural and eco-political landscape of Angkor.
Tran Ky Phuong is a former curator of the Museum of Cham Sculpture in Da Nang (1978-98); currently he is a senior research fellow with the Vietnam Association of Ethnic Minorities’ Culture and Arts; and is a researcher of the Center for Cultural Relationship Studies in Mainland Southeast Asia (CRMA Center) of Chulachomklao Royal Military Academic, Thailand and at APSARA Authority, Siem Reap, Cambodia; from 2012 until the present he has been a consultant of UNESCO World Cultural Heritages at My Son Sanctuary. He has awarded several research fellowships to study at International Institute for Asian Studies (IIAS), Leiden; Asia Research Institute (ARI) of National University of Singapore; Center for Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts (CASVA), National Gallery of Arts, Washington DC.
He has published several books and articles in Vietnamese, English and Japanese, including: My Son in the History of Cham Art (1988); Vestiges of Champa Civilization (2008); Champa Iseki/Champa Ruins (co-author with Shige-eda Yutaku, 1997); The Cham of Vietnam: History, Society and Art (co-editor with Bruce Lockhart), NUS Press (2011); “The Architecture of Temple-Towers of Ancient Champa (Central Vietnam)” in Champa and the Archaeology of My Son, Vietnam (2009); “The Preservation and Management of the Monuments of Champa in Central Vietnam: The Example of My Son Sanctuary, a World Cultural Heritage Site”, in Rethinking Cultural Resource Management in Southeast Asia: Preservation, Development and Neglect (2011);“The new archaeological finds in Northeast Cambodia, Southern Laos and Central Highland of Vietnam: Considering on the significance of overland trading route and cultural interactions of the ancient kingdoms of Champa and Cambodia”, in Advancing Southeast Asian Archaeology 2013, SEAMEO SPAFA Regional Center for Archaeology and Fine Arts, Bangkok, Thailand (2015).
Soumya James is an independent Art Historian who studies premodern South and Southeast Asian art. She received her PhD in Art History from Cornell University. Her dissertation focused on the cultural and eco-political significance of the divine feminine at three Angkor period sites. Her research investigates the relationship between landscape and built form, gender and sexuality, and the art historical links between premodern South and Southeast Asia. Following her graduation, she continued her research while working as the coordinator for the Science and Society Programme at the National Centre for Biological Sciences, Bangalore, India. She was a Postdoctoral Associate at the Franke Program in Science and the Humanities and a Fellow at the Whitney Humanities Center, both at Yale University. She is currently working on a book manuscript and planning her next fieldtrip to Cambodia.
Transformative traditions: Dana Langlois and Reaksmey Yean of Cambodia’s JavaArts – in conversation, 04/04/2017, Art Radar
Prominent Phnom Penh gallery seeks to make contemporary art accessible through initiatives.
Based in Phnom Penh since 1998, Dana Langlois founded JavaArts in 2000. In addition to the café and gallery that makes up JavaArts, Langlois also founded experimental gallery Sala Artspace and Our City Festival.
Java Gallery’s current Curator for Creative Programmes, Reaksmey Yean worked for art organization Phare Ponleu Selpak as an Assistant to the Department of Performing Arts and Administrator of Artist Residency Programmes (EU) and Cambodian Living Arts as a Communication and Advertising Officer and Production and Logistic Officer. Yean is also the founder of Trotchaek Pneik.
Langlois and Yean talked with Art Radar about the rapid changes engulfing Cambodia’s urban capital and the echo of the country’s brutal genocide under Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge, where an estimated 1.7 to 2.5 million people perished between 1975 and 1979.