Feeling curious about Cambodian culture and its history? So, why not learn more about Cambodia by taking in some of the country’s artistic masterpieces?
Cambodian art is an invitation to explore the nation and its people in new ways. Those talented artists who, in most cases, create works based on their observations and impressions of the time and place in which they were made. As such, perusing Khmer art (or សិល្បៈខ្មែរ, pronounced as selb khmer) is the ideal way to educate yourself about Cambodian culture and history.
As you may know, the Khmer Empire has been around long before any other Southeast Asian country. Authentic wall sculptures in Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, are one example of the many forms of Cambodian art that have been created for centuries. So many are out there, but we should start with the most well-known one.
Before we jump into the incredible list of Cambodian art, let’s begin with a quick lesson on the Khmer word related to art in the table below.
|សិល្បៈខ្មែរ||selb khmer||Khmer art|
|សិល្បៈខាងគំនូរ||selb khang koumnour||Drawing|
|ទាំងគំនូរគូរនៅជញ្ជាំង||phtangkoumnour kour now chonhcheang||Mural|
The Most Popular Form Of Art In Cambodia
We’ve established that the Khmer empire has built and collapsed centuries ago; thus, traditional Cambodian art has been evolving. Most notably at Angkor Wat and its surrounding temples. Some stoneworks and architectures from that period have survived to the modern day.
In fact, they were left to decay when the empire fell and was overtaken by nature. Unfortunately, the Khmer Rouge’s murder of artists and other factors contributed to the fall of traditional and contemporary arts in Cambodia during the second half of the twentieth century.
Many ancient or traditional Cambodian arts and crafts became rare, but you can still see them when visiting the country. They include stone carving, ceramics, textiles, weaving, wat murals, and Apsara dance.
#1 Carving And Sculpting – ការឆ្លាក់ & ចម្លាក់ (Kar Chhlak & Chamleak)
The contemporary era has seen a diversity of modern temple architecture designs. We recommend a trip to Angkor Wat, where you can experience ancient Cambodia through its massive temples and detailed sculpture. Stone carving is a lost art form of the contemporary era due to the remarkable longevity of ancient works of art preserved in stone. This nearly resulted in the disappearance of stone carving as an art form.
Fortunately, in the late 20th century, attempts to restore Angkor created a fresh need for experienced stone carvers to replace lost or damaged pieces. A great pattern of stone carving is developing to satisfy this need.
#2 Murals – ទាំងគំនូរគូរនៅជញ្ជាំង (Phtangkoumnour Kour Now Chonhcheang)
You can observe murals in the temples of Buddhist nations like Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia.
Few of Cambodia’s old wat murals have survived the recent battle’s damage. Art historians named Guy and Jacqueline Nafilyan captured murals from the 19th century in the 1960s, documenting a piece of history that has since been destroyed.
Wat Rajabo in Siem Reap province, the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, and Wat Kompong Tralach Leu in Kompong Chhnang province are home to some of the most famous surviving paintings. While there has been a rebirth of wat murals in the recent decade, the earlier murals preserved in Cambodia are typically more detailed and intricate.
#3 Weaving – ដែលត្បាញ (Del Tbanh)
Four major categories characterize Cambodian weaving.
The Ikat Technique
The ikat method of creating patterned textiles is intricate. The weavers tie-dye little swatches of the weft yarn before they start weaving to make the designs. Many different patterns are used and often differ from one place to the next.
Uneven twill is the second type of weaving used in Cambodia. Fabrics of one or two colors can be made by threading three lines so that one thread’s color holds sway on one side and the other two threads dictate the color on the other side.
Textiles in Cambodia typically use natural colors. For example, the nests of the lac bug are used to make red dye, indigo is used to make blue, prohut bark is used to make yellow and green, and ebony bark is used to make black.
Farmers in Cambodia often increase their income by weaving baskets for sale or personal use. Most baskets are woven from bamboo that has been sliced very thinly. Weaving baskets are famous in Siem Reap and Kampong Cham.
Weaving mats is a popular seasonal activity. They are often crafted from reeds left in their original tan color or dyed in rich neutral colors. The Mekong floodplain, particularly the Lvea Em district, is famous across Cambodia for its mat weaving. In addition to its practical flooring, mats can be used as decorative accents when decorating a home.
As you can see, Cambodian artwork is a great way to gain insight into the Khmer culture. It explains everything and provides proof of Khmer existence from ancient times to the present day. Through the art they produced, we can better understand their vision of the world and way of life. If you’re an art lover, you may use Cambodian art as inspiration to study the Khmer language until you’ve reached fluency!
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