De facto keepers of Khmer art tradition, Artisans D’Angkor will show a collection of sculptures inspired by the goddesses of Angkor beginning January 5 at the FCC in Siem Reap.
An exquisite trove of hand-carved statues, the collection’s Cambodian roots are easily identifiable in the figures’ graceful Khmer beauty and shapely, divine forms.
“It is our prestige collection,” says Tep Mona, communications manager at Artisans. “We produce art in many mediums, but for this show we will be concentrating on sandstone carvings. There will be 13 sculptures all based around the theme of feminine divinities from the Angkorian era.”
The ancient way
While busts of apsaras and ancient Khmer kings are ubiquitous throughout the Kingdom, none compare in craftsmanship nor quality to the Artisan pieces.
Following the traditions of their forbears, sculptors have for many pieces used sandstone from the holy mountain of Kulen, the source of sandstone for Angkor Wat.
“There are two types of sandstone that come from this mountain,” Tep explains. “We are not allowed to use the kind that went into the building of Angkor, as the quality of our workmanship is so high that the pieces could be sold as fakes instead of reproductions.”
Since its creation, Artisans D’Angkor has pioneered a new social policy in Cambodia, guaranteeing levels of pay and social and medical welfare.
Although now a self-sufficient company and not a registered charity or non-governmental organization, Artisans grew from a perceived need to help replant the seeds of the Khmer art tradition, which had all but died during the war and turmoil of the 70s and 80s.
Formed in 1999, the company helps young artists find work after finishing their training with Chantiers-Ecoles de Formation Professionelle, a Cambodian NGO that takes young artists from rural backgrounds and trains them in traditional arts, such as stone and wood carving, lacquering, gilding, and silk weaving.
For decades Cambodia has captivated the world with its Angkorean art, but along with paying tribute to the country’s rich artistic past, Artisans is also busy creating a new legacy.
“We recently won a UNESCO Award for some of our contemporary pieces,” Tep says with visible pride. “We want to not only look in Cambodia’s past but also into the country’s future for our artistic inspiration.”
The show runs through February 5th and all pieces on display are for sale. But unlike most traditional exhibitions at the FCC, the Artisans show presents a unique problem — weight.
These are not items that you pick up and put in your pocket.
The heaviest piece weighs 85 kilograms. One recently commissioned sculpture, now sitting in a garden in France, weighed in at more than 600 kilograms. Not exactly something you sling in your hand-baggage and take home on the plane.
“Luckily, we get a very special deal with DHL,” Tep says with a laugh.