About Cambodia

/ Art and handicraft

The history of Cambodian art stretches back centuries to ancient pottery, silk/ basket weaving, and stone carving. The height of Khmer art occurred during the Angkor period; much of the era's stone carving and architecture survive to the present. In ancient times, art and crafts were generally produced either by rural non-specialists for practical use or by skilled artists producing works for the Royal Palace. In modern times, Cambodian culture and art have been carefully considered as the tourist market has increased and governments and NGOs have contributed to the preservation of Cambodian culture.

The Cambodian produce many hand-made items including rattan furniture, intricate stone and wood carvings, colorful woven mats and baskets, and a variety of silver and silk ware. Many of these items are used regularly in the daily lives of the Cambodian people.
One can readily witness master craftsmen at work and purchase such gifts in markets and specialty shops throughout the Phnom Penh Capital, Siem Reap Province, Sihanouk Ville, and other potential provinces of Cambodia.

Textiles : Silk weaving in Cambodia has a long history. The practice dates to as early as the first century, and textiles were used in trade during Angkorian times. Even modern textile production evidences these historic antecedents: motifs found on silk today often echo clothing details on ancient stone sculptures.

Weavers today form sophisticated patterns of birds and flowers, mythical and realistic, often depicting Khmer tales, scenes from Angkor Wat, and the life of Lord Buddha. They produce a style of intricately patterned and dyed silk called “Kha Bang Neang Sok Kra Ob”.

There are two main types of Cambodian weaving. The ikat technique (Khmer: Chong Kiet), which produces patterned fabric, is quite complex. To create patterns, weavers tie and dye portions of weft yarn before weaving begins. The second weaving technique, unique to Cambodia, is called "uneven twill". It yields single or two-color fabrics, which are produced by weaving three threads so that the color of one thread dominates on one side of the fabric, while the two others determine the color on the reverse side.
Natural dyes made from plants are traditionally used. Red dye comes from lac insect nests, blue dye from indigo, yellow and green dye from Prohut bark, violet dye from violets, and black dye from ebony bark.

Designs incorporate images of flowers, animals, peacocks, crowns, jewels, and other motifs inspired by the Angkor era, or handed down from previous generations.

The first technique involves wrapping strands of raw silk on to a frame, and then tying the strands with banana-leaf threads into patterns. The silk is removed, dyed, and remounted on the frame to be re-tied for the other colors in the pattern, up to five times. Base color silk is strung lengthwise on to the loom. The dyed threads are the wefts, the crosswise threads, woven into the pattern originally created by the tie-dying process.

It takes a week to string the warp threads onto the loom, and a week to weave a length of silk for a Sarong. Various silk products include checkered Sarong and Sampot worn at home, patterned Hol and Phamuong worn on formal occasions, furnishings decorated for informal/ formal ceremonies, and Pidan (pictorial tapestries) used as household beauties.

Silk weaving can be seen in Koh Sotin District, Kampong Cham Province; Kean Svay District, Kandal Province; Bati and Prey Kabas Districts, Takeo Province; Prèk Changkran District, Prey Vèng Province; and Prèk Luong and Koh Dach Districts, Kandal Province.

Cambodia's modern silk-weaving centers providing employment for many rural women are Takeo, Battambang, Beanteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Kampot provinces.

Cotton textiles have also played a significant role in Cambodian culture. Traditionally woven cotton remains popular. Rural women often weave homemade cotton fabric, which is used in garments and for household purposes. Krama, the traditional check scarves worn almost universally by the Cambodian, are made of cotton.

Non-textile Weaving : Many Cambodian farmers weave baskets (Khmer: Tbanh Kantrak) for household use or as a supplemental source of income. Most baskets are made of thinly cut bamboo. Regions known for basketry include Siem Reap and Kampong Cham. Mat weaving (Tbanh KantÚl) is a common seasonal occupation. They are most commonly made from reeds, either left a natural tan color or dyed in deep jewel tones. The region of Cambodia best known for mat weaving is the Mekong floodplain, especially around Lvea Em district. Mats are commonly laid out for guests and are important building materials for homes. Wicker and rattan crafts (Tbanh Kanhcheu) are also significant. Common wicker and rattan products include walls, mats, furniture, and other household items.

Stone Carving : Cambodia's best-known stone carving adorns the temples of Angkor, which are renowned for the scale, richness and detail of their sculpture. In modern times, however, the art of stone carving became rare, largely because older sculptures survived undamaged for centuries and because cement molds were used for modern temple architecture.

During the late 20th century, however, efforts to restore Angkor resulted in a new demand for skilled stone carvers to replace missing or damaged pieces, and a new tradition of stone carving is arising to meet this need. Most modern carving is traditional-style, but some carvers are experimenting with contemporary designs. Interest is also renewing for using stone carving in modern pagodas. Modern carvings are typically made from Banteay Meanchey sandstone.

Lacquer Ware : Cambodian traditional lacquer ware reached its height between the 12th and 16th centuries. Some examples of work from this era, including gilded Buddha’s images and betel boxes, have survived to the present day. Lacquer ware was traditionally colored black using burnt wood, representing the underworld; red using mercury, representing the earth; and yellow using arsenic, representing the heavens. Lacquer on Angkorian stone dates to the 15th or 16th century.

In modern Cambodia, the art of lacquer work nearly faded into oblivion: few lacquer trees survived, and lacquer was unavailable in local markets. Today's revival is still in its infancy, but 100 lacquer artists have been trained by a French expert under the guidance of Artisans d'Angkor, a company that produces traditional crafts in village workshops. Some artists are beginning to experiment with different techniques and styles to produce modern and striking effects.

Ceramics : Cambodian pottery traditions date to 5000 BCE. Ceramics in the shape of birds, elephants, rabbits, and other animals were mostly used for domestic purposes such as holding food and water. It was very popular with the Cambodian people, especially members of the royal families between the 11th and 13th centuries.

Potting traditionally was done either on a pottery wheel or using shaping tools such as paddles and anvils. Firing was done in clay kilns, which could reach temperatures of 1,000-1,200 C, or in the open air, at temperatures of around 700 C. Primarily green and brown glazes were used. In rural Cambodia, traditional pottery methods remained. Many pieces are hand-turned and fired on an open fire without glaze. The country's major center for pottery is Kampong Chhnang Province.

Silverware : The work of silversmiths reached its height during the 11th century when craftsmen attained perfection. Workshops supported by the Royal Palace and the School of Fine Arts also flourished from the 19th century to the early 20th century.

Today, riparian craftsmen predominate in Kampong Luong District, Kandal Province. They use silver imported from Laos and China. Its purity varies from 70-92 percent. They produce objects such as Buddha’s images, jars, chopsticks, jewelry, knives, forks, and anklets. Small betel nut boxes in animal motifs such as rabbits, ducks, cats, deer and citrus fruits are most popular. Ornately filigree work is in the Khmer traditional style.

Contemporary silverware can be found in various markets and shops in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, and Sihanouk Ville.

Wat Murals : Few historic Wat murals remain in Cambodia. The best known surviving murals are at the Silver Pagoda in Phnom Penh, Wat Rajabo in Siem Reap province, and Wat Kampong Tralach Leu in Kampong Chhnang Province. Cambodia's surviving older murals are generally more refined and detailed.

Kite-flying : Cambodia's kite-making and kite-flying tradition, which dates back many centuries, was revived in the early 1990s and is now extremely popular throughout the country. Kites (Khmer: Khlèng Ek) are generally flown at night during the northeast monsoon season. A bow attached to the kites resonates in the wind like a musical sound.

Cambodian Dancing : The Cambodian dance can be divided into three main categories, classical dances which developed in the royal courts, folk dances which portray everyday life, and vernacular dances which are performed for social functions.

We can arrange a show of classical, traditional and folkloric dances for the tourists who are interested in Cambodian art.