HomeAsian AmericansUniversity of Michigan Museum exhibit spotlights Cambodian art

University of Michigan Museum exhibit spotlights Cambodian art

A new exhibition showcasing Cambodian heritage from its premodern temples to post-genocide society is on display through July 28 at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

The exhibition, titled “Angkor Complex: Cultural Heritage and Post-Genocide Memory in Cambodia,“ hosts 80 works of Cambodian art and consists of three sections: 1) the history of Cambodia and the temple Angkor Wat, 2) the modern understanding of loss and 3) cultural repatriation, according to the Michigan Daily

Coordinated by associate art history professor Nachiket Chanchani, the exhibit features artists including Vann Nath, Sopheap Pich, Svay Sareth, Amy Lee Sanford and Leang Seckon, according to the Collector

“One can encounter this exhibition in many different ways,” Chanchani said to the Michigan Daily. “Many of the objects are then set so that we look at them as mirrors to each other, where they’re not exactly the same thing, but you understand one object better through comparison or contrast.” 

Chanchani said that when he first visited Angkor Wat six years ago, he became inspired to understand and spotlight the complexities of Cambodian history in the U.S., Voice of America reported.

Chanchani was particularly interested in the stark contrast between the country’s period of the ancient temple compound and post-Khmer Rouge violence, which between 1975 and 1979 resulted in approximately 2 million deaths. 

These art pieces, Chanchani said to Voice of America, can help to “teach us lessons of how to kind of stay stable, find some way forward.” 

“The exhibition invites consideration of today’s broader cultural, social and political happenings and fosters dialogue about the lessons that can be taken from the pain and resilience of the Cambodian people,” said museum director Christina Olsen, Voice of America reported. 

While Chanchani hoped to introduce Cambodian art to the public to comfort audiences, some Cambodians feel that exhibits like these that focus on the Khmer Rouge genocide may narrow people’s understanding of Cambodian heritage, according to the Michigan Daily.

“An exhibition about Cambodia, its history and culture is rare in the U.S., so I think it is important to have the exhibition to put Cambodia on the map,” said Reaksmey Yean, Cambodian art writer, curator and researcher, to Voice of America. “However, it is a cliche for me because it’s been more than 20 years when our civil war completely ended and there are so much in our cultures that can be shown.”

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