Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Museum Of Cambodia

By Ek Chandararith 
    Construction of  the National Museum building began in 1917 on the grounds of the fomer école des Arts Cambodians (School of Cambodian Arts). An official inauguration ceremony was held on 13 April 1920, the first day of the Khmer New Year. King Sisowath issued a royal decree naming it the Musée Albert Sarraut in honor of the French Governor-General of Indochina. The original purpose of the museum was to provide a central place for the storage, protection and display of Cambodia's artistic, historic, and archaeological treasures. The French controlled all museum operations until 1966 when the museum was placed under the authority of the Cambodian government, and became known as the National Museum of Cambodia. The first Cambodian director Mr Chea Thay Seng was appointed to head all museum affairs in 1966.    
            The museum building was designed by the eminent French historian, George Groslier, and incorporates a wide range of traditional Khmer architectural elements. The massive wooden entry doors and window shutters were designed by professors and students from the Ècole des Arts Cambodgiens who style their ornamental carvings after those found on Angkor-period temples. The insides of the window shutters in the Entrance of the Gallery were painted with scenes from the Reamker ( the Khmer version of the Hindu epic Ramayana) and other traditional Khmer stories.    
            During the years of civil war in the early 1970's, many objects from provincial museums were brought to the National Museum for safekeeping. During the period of Khmer Rouge control (1975-79), the museum was abandoned and its entire staff was forced to evacuate Phnom Penh along with the rest of the city's residents.    
            The museum suffered greatly due to neglect during this time. After the liberation of Phnom Penh on 7 January 1979, the museum was found in a state of disrepair with a rotted roof, overgrown courtyard and scultures scattered in disarray. The museum was tidied up and officially reopened to the public on 13 Aril1979.    
            Over the past two decades, the National Museum, with the support of several foreign governments and organisations(esp. Australia, Franch and UNESCO), has seen gradual progress in restoring the museum building and its collection. However, major obstacles still remain which hinder attempts to bring the National Museum up to international standards. The two main sources of these obstacles are :    
            1-a serious lack of funding to support necessary projects.    
            2-a dire shortage of museum professional on staff. It is hoped that these obstacles can be overcome with the support of compassionate members of the international community who understand the importance of preserving Khmer culture.    
GALLERY 1: Bronzes  
            Use of bronze-casting began in Cambodia sometime between 1,500 and 1,000BC. It is widely assumed that this technology was introduced to Southeast Asia through contact with the Chinese, but the possibility of independent development of bronze casting in Southeast Asia has yet to be conclusively rule out. Whatever the case, bronze- casting had become a major industry throughout  mainland Southeast Asian by 500BC- at which time bronze  was used to make a wide range of tools, weapons,ritual objects and ornaments. Examples of prehistoric Khmer bronze working can be found in Gallery 4.    
            After Indian political and religious idea began permeating Cambodia(around the time of Christ),a tradition of casting bronze Hindu and Buddhist divinities emerged. This tradition reached its pinnacle of output and skill during the Angkor period. The large bronze figure of the Reclining Visnu (late 11th century) demonstrates the  level of mastery which Khmer bronze artists achieved. The museum's Bronze Gallery contains bronzes dating from the 7th to 20th century AD. Beside the objects which were made in veneration of religious divinities, the other types of bronzes on display can be divided into two categories: ritual objects and secular goods.Many of ritual objects in the collection, including popils( stulised candle holders), bells, bowls and conches for ritual water, are still used in a variety of Khmer ceremonies today. Many of the secular goods are objects which would have been bestowed by the royal court as insignia of rank for officials. These include hooks for palanquins, gilded rings from the handles of parasols,fans,and military or official seals.    
1-Phnom Da Style     
2-Sambor Prei Kuk    
3-Prei Khmeng Style    
4-Prasat Andet Style     
5-Kampong Preah Style    
2-Preah Ko,c.875-893    
4-Koh Ker,c.921-945    
5-Pre Rup,c.947-965    
6-Banteay Srei,c.967-1000    
9-Angkor Wat , c.1100-1175    
Post-Angkorian Style:    
14th century-present    
Gallery2-3: Sculture  
            The oldest known Khmer stone scultures date to the early 6th century and were found in cave temples which were carved into the side of Phnom Da, a small hill near Angkor Borei. Angkor Borei,today a small town in the Mekong Delta region, was a major city-centre within what is thought to have been the first large-scale centralised  Khmer State(c.1st-6th century;often called Funan as it was denoted in Chinese annals of the period).    
            The Phnom Da scultures were carved from single blocks of fine - grained sanstone and depict both Buddhist and Hindu divinities. Although the sculptures reveal traditional Indian stylistic influences, one can also see that the Khmer artists strove to break away from their mentors. Moving away from the Indian tradition of the sculpting in the high-relief,the Khmers attempted to make free-standing statues, supported by an arch or by an attribute of the divinity( such as a piece of clothing or a hand-held object).    
            In the 7th and 8th centuries, the power base shifted north to the plains east of the Tonle Sap lake.Funan's dominance ended when king Isanavarman I established the first capital of this new power centre (called Zhenla) at Isanapura(Sambor) in present day Kompong Thom province. In the 8th century,Zhenla was divided  into two competing powers, Land Zhenla and Water Zhenla. This situation remained until Jayavarman II set up a capital on Mount  Mahendrapura(Phnom Kulen) in the Angkor region in 802 and successfully unified the Khmer people.    
            The majority of the sculptures from Zhenla and Funan depict Visnu,while another popular deity,Shiva, is usually symbolised by a Linga ( a stone phallus). Pre-angkorian sculptors often combined these two Hindu divinities into one deity, called Harrihara. Statues of Buddha and other Buddhist divinities were also  popular with pre-Angkorian artists of both Funan and Zhenla. The Zhenla period saw an increase in relief carvings on stone lintels and pediments.    
            Cambodia is rich in sandstone deposits. Throughout the Angkorian period, sandstone was quarried from the Kulen hills(to the north of Angkor) and floated on the rafts along rivers and canals  to the building sites.    
            The first recognisable art style of the Angkorian period is the Kulen style(c.825-75),named after the hill on which JayavarmanII    built his capital  and had his royal consecration ceremony initiating the cult  of the Devaraja(god-king) which would be allowed by all subsequent Angkorian kings.This style was the first to dispense with supporting arches- as a result the figures became heavier. The body is sculpted rigidly upright with distinctive Khmer features- round faces and broad brows.    
Koh Ker style (941-944) shows another interesting development with gigantic figures- human and animal,captured in dynamic movement. The Wrestlers and Monkey kings, Valin and Sugriva, are good examples of this style. In contrast, the Banteay Srei style of the late 10th century is unique in the intricacy and richness of the decoration, and the warm tones of the pink sanstone.    
            The statues of the Baphuon style (1010-1080) are slim and gracful. This was made possible by adding subtle supports behind the ankles. The eyes are often incised and they may have been fitted with gems and precious metals.     
            The Angkor Wat style (1100-1175) presents the highest achievements in architecture and ornamentation of buildings and bas-reliefs. Besides the world famous Angkor Wat temple, Phimai temple (in Thailand) was also constructed during this period .Sculted figures are upright, muscular and formal, and are prominently adorned with ornate belts and jewelled necklaces and bracelets.    
            The Bayon style of late 12th to early 13th century,produced a great number of Buddhist images due to the  religious preference of king JayavarmanVII. Still highly revered today as one of the greatest Khmer kings, JayavarmanVII, although a devout Buddhist, was tolerant of other religious as evidenced by the combination of Hindu and Buddhist symbols n Bayon art. An example of this is the portrayal of Buddha wearing a diadem(ornamented crown) similar to that normally worn by Visnu. The intention was to portray the Buddha as a powerful universal monarch in keeping with the contemporary images of Hindu gods. Another defining aspect of the Bayon style is the development of portraiture-particularly the portrayal of royalty in the guise of Buddhist deities.    
            Not long after the end of  Jayavarman VII's reign, stone art production and monumental temple building become almost non-existent in Khmer culture. With the widespread conversion to Theravada Buddhism(c.15th century),wood becomes the primary medium for Khmer culture. Although wood would have certainly been used for statues since pre-Angkorian times, due to its susceptibility to rapid decay , only a small number of wood statues have survived from the late Angkorian period.    
            In post-Angkorian wood sculture,artists began applying one or two players of lacquer which played a decorative as well as protectiv role. Also during this period, artists developed the technique of  decorating wood figures with encrusted ornaments -frequently using ivory , mother-of -pearl, or vitrified lead inlays. Most of the wooden statues in tthe museum's collection were  carved in the last few centuries. One can see Thai influences in many of the Post- Angkorian works    
GALLERY 4:Ethnography   
            The museum contains a variety of ethnographic objects dating from the last two centuries. One of the most impressive items is the royal boat cabin which was carved from hard koki wood. Another royal treasure is the royal incineration urn which was donated to the museum following the cremation ceremony of king Norodom Suramarit. Also in this gallery, one finds loom and  weaving utensils,religious furniture, elephant howdahs,and a number of  other traditional Khmer craft items.    
Gallery 4: Ceramics  
            Recent archaeological excavations at Angkor Borei (in southern Cambodia) have recovered a large number of ceramics, some of which probably date back to the prehistoric period. Most of the pottery, however, dates to the pre-Angkorian period and consists mainly of pinkish  terracotta pots which were either hand-made or thrown on a wheel, and then decorated with incised patterns.    
            Glazed wares first appear in the archaeological record at the end of the 9th century at the Roluos temple group in the  Angkor region, where green-glazed pot shards have been found. A brown glaze became popular at beginning of the 11th century and brown-glazed wares have been found in abundance at Kher sites in northeast Thailand. Decorating pottery with animal forms was a popular style from the 11th to 13th century. Archaeological excavations in the Angkor region have revealed that  towards the end of Angkor period production of indigenous pottery declined while there was a dramatic increase in Chinese ceramic imports.    
            Direct evidence of the  shapes of vessels is provided by scenes depicted on the bas-reliefs at Khmer temples, which also offer insight into domestic and ritualistic uses  of the wares. The wide range of utilitarian shapes suggest the Khmers used ceramics in their daily life for cooking, food preservation, carrying and storing liquids, as containers for medicinal herbs,perfumes and cosmetics.    
GALLERY 4:Prehistory  
            Just beyond the ceramic gallery , one finds an assortment of prehistoric objects. Because there has  been relatively little research into the distant past of Cambodia, precise dating and provenance for most of these objects is unknown. Several prehistoric sites are known in Cambodia(inc.Samrong Sen, Anlong Phdao, Melou Prei, and Laang Spean). It is believed that many more  prehistoric sites exist, but  have yet to be discovered.    
            In this gallery one finds ancient stone and bronze tools and weapons, enigmatic bronze drums similar to those found at  the Dong Son site in Vietnam(thought to be used in rain and war ceremonies),and some ancient ceramics. Current archaeological research into Cambodia's extensive prehistory will no doubt provide better insight into  the lives of the people who made these objects, and  give us a more concrete time-frame for their dates of manufacture.          

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