In awe of Angkor

Art April 06, 2018 11:43

By The Nation

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The Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM) in Singapore is hosting an exhibition that explores the art, architecture, and legacy of the ancient city of Angkor through more than 140 sculptures, watercolours, drawings, and historic memorabilia.

Titled “Angkor: Exploring Cambodia’s Sacred City”, the exhibition kicks off ACM’s Year of Southeast Asia, which features exhibitions dedicated to Southeast Asian art, culture, and heritage. The special exhibition is a collaboration with the Musee national des arts asiatiques – Guimet (Guimet Museum), one of the premier Asian art museums in Europe, and features the largest-ever display of its masterpieces in Asia. 

Objects range from exquisite Khmer sculptures, architectural elements in stone and bronze dating as far back as the 6th century, to drawings, rare photographs, and memorabilia made by the French in the 1800s and 1900s. 

“The Khmer civilisation is one of the greatest in Southeast Asia and the world, and Angkor is a Unesco World Heritage site. We wanted to bring this world heritage to Singaporean audiences, so they can experience first-hand both the beauty and timelessness of Khmer art, as well as how Angkor and the Khmers captured the imagination of the world. 

“ACM’s mission is to explore encounters and connections between civilisations in Asia, and so this exhibition has a cross-cultural, East-West perspective, presenting not only the splendours of Khmer art and civilisation, but also works of art related to the French encounter with Angkor and their reintroduction of Angkor to the world in the late 19th and early 20th century,” said Mr Kennie Ting, director of ACM.

Angkor’s renown outside Asia grew largely due to the French missions of 1866 and 1873. Much of these initial efforts can be credited in particular to the watercolours painted by French explorer and artist Louis Delaporte, and photographs by his countryman Emile Gsell. 

The first section of the exhibition showcases photographs, watercolours, prints, architectural drawings, rubbings and mouldings of temple facades made by Delaporte, Gsell and other early French explorers. They provided Europe an eye into the region, which in turn helped to greatly enhance international knowledge and awareness of Angkor. Of special note are the plaster casts made in the late 1800s by French explorers in Angkor. One of the casts in the exhibition is the only remaining record of a bas-relief scene destroyed when a wall collapsed in the 1940s.

The second part features masterpieces of Khmer art from the Guimet Museum. More than 50 sculptures provide an overview of the progression of Khmer art and artistry, illustrating the skill of Khmer craftsmen as they transformed raw stone into striking sculptures that capture delicate facial features, elaborate drapery, and the soft realism of the body. Visitors will be able to examine up close, stunning pieces that depict the various deities from Angkor’s Hindu and Buddhist pantheon, while learning about Khmer faith and cosmology.

Visitors can also look forward to enhancing their experience with an array of programmes and talks related to Angkor and contemporary Cambodian culture, including Angkor Encore (May 25-27), a weekend festival highlighting Cambodian performing arts. In addition, the ACM is organising the Exploring Angkor Symposium (May 18-19), which gathers international thought leaders from France, Cambodia, United States, Australia and Singapore. Discussions will include Angkor’s legacy, present-day challenges, and future plans. 

The exhibition runs from Sunday (April 8) to July 22. For more information, visit