The Khmer Rouge caused the deaths – by killing, starvation, and disease – of an estimated 2 million Cambodians, including an entire generation of art conservators. With the killing fields in the history books, skilled professionals are now reemerging.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
• A local, slice-of-life story from a Monitor correspondent.
In a side wing of Phnom Penh’s National Museum, Noeun Von is slowly bringing a piece of his culture back to life.
He casts a cloth over a bronze Buddha, removing the dust that has settled on the figure. When this piece was first unearthed, the figure’s head had been detached from its body. But now the piece has been meticulously repaired, allowing the intricate details on the centuries-old bronze to be revealed.
Mr. Von’s handiwork, and that of his colleagues in the five-year-old metals conservation laboratory, will be on display this year in the United States as part of “Gods of Angkor,” a major exhibition of the work of Khmer bronze casters hosted by the Smithsonian Institution.
More than a presentation of Cambodia’s precious art, however, the exhibition will also shine a spotlight on the skilled professionals working to preserve this country’s culture.
An entire generation of conservators was lost in the killing fields during the brutal Khmer Rouge regime. After the Khmer Rouge was ousted from power in 1979, preservation of invaluable Khmer artifacts was left largely to the foreign conservators who ventured into the country. Slowly, however, that has changed.