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Phase II: Regional expansion


Wat Samrong Knong represents the typical Buddhist temple style in the Battambang area © UNESCO

In Cambodia, as in Lao PDR, the number of remaining master craftsmen in Buddhist traditional decorative arts is very limited. Arts and craft traditions related to Buddhism are on the brink of extinction due to the country’s recent troubled past of the country.  However, as in Lao PDR, in Cambodia Buddhism has never completely disappeared and there is now a revival of Buddhist practice throughout the country.  Buddhist temples, damaged due to the war and years of lack of repair and maintenance are being rehabilitated, but often with disastrous results for the authenticity of the temples, caused by lack of understanding and craftsmanship.

Implementing this project in Cambodia revives traditional skills and revitalizes local knowledge, consequently contributing to the authentic conservation of Cambodia’s large ensemble of Buddhist heritage, which is now under threat of well-intended but ill- informed repair and rehabilitation efforts.

Project Overview and objectives
There are two Buddhist sects in Cambodia: the Mahanikay Order and the Thommayut Order. The project implementation strategy for Cambodia is to work with both sects simultaneously in order to achieve maximum impact and coverage. In order to facilitate close collaboration between the different Buddhist sects and the concerned government counterparts, the project has established a National Project Supervisory Committee on which all stakeholders are represented and which meets regularly to review project progress and discuss future plans and directions.

The objectives of the project in Cambodia, as they were developed in consultation with the local stakeholders, are:

  • to raise awareness on the reasons to conserve Buddhist heritage, both tangible (i.e. temples) as well as intangible (i.e. artistic skills and traditional knowledge needed to conserve old temples and build new temples in authentic ways)
  • to launch hands-on training in both Buddhist art and basic (preventive) conservation
  • to document knowledge and skills for wider dissemination
  • to build strong networks that will allow for long term sustainability of the project achievements.

Project output to date
The project has made great strides towards achieving its objectives during the past year. During one of the first meetings of the National Supervisory Committee, it was decided to establish two training centers for traditional Buddhist arts and crafts in Cambodia: one managed by the Thommayut Order, located in Phnom Penh at Wat Svaypopei, and one by the Mahanikay Order, located in Siem Reap at Wat Bo.

In order to facilitate exchange and cooperation, both training centers would be implementing the same training curriculum, focusing primarily on drawing, woodcarving, mural painting, preventive conservation, and Buddhist theory. The Royal University of Fine Arts agreed to develop the training curriculum. Drafts have been prepared and discussed at meetings of the National Supervisory Committee and the trial curriculum is currently being finalized.
To provide the trainers and trainees with reference material of good examples of authentic Cambodian Buddhist art, it was decided to undertake documentation, using photography, drawing and text, of older, representative pagodas throughout the country. The provinces of Kratie, Kompong Cham and Battambang were selected as locations to undertake the research due to the fact that the older temples that remain in these provinces represent the different Buddhist art styles that were identified in Cambodia. The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts kindly agreed to implement this project component. Documentation is currently ongoing.

[Phnom Penh...]
[Siem Reap...]