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Ancient culture goes online as National Museum digitises

A woman looks at an ancient sculpture in the National Museum in Phnom Penh
A woman looks at an ancient sculpture in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Ancient culture goes online as National Museum digitises

After nine years of locating works, cross-checking records, photographing and finally cataloguing, the National Museum has unveiled its online database, which features more than 16,000 entries ranging from ancient statues to paintings and manuscripts.

Launched on January 3, the database is the only fine arts system of its kind in Cambodia, with its web presence enabling museum curators to locate and document works, as well as providing the public with access.

Funded by the Leon Levy Foundation, the National Museum of Cambodia collaborated with the Center for Khmer Studies (CKS), an international, non-governmental organisation that supports and promotes research and scholarly exchange with Cambodia.

“It’s extremely important for Cambodians as well as researchers, whether they be just generally interested in Cambodian art, wanting to actually locate, write about or research something in particular in the collection,” Darryl Collins, project director and member of the CKS board of directors, said.

Prior to the online database, museum records were scattered in three different formats, with several French card cataloguing systems, Khmer handwritten inventory lists and a pre-existing database.

“Before it was rather laborious; virtually you had to turn up on the doorstep of the National Museum Of Cambodia to talk to the curatorial staff or the director and find out about a particular piece,” Collins said.

Through the collation of information, many of the logistical and maintenance issues that had plagued the museum in the past have been rectified.

Related pieces that had been separated in the vast basement of the museum have been reunited, while the many traditional silk textiles that had rotted due to flooding were documented and replaced with textiles donated to the museum.

Khmer Dev INC, an IT collective specialising in website building and hosting, was employed to create the complex database, which incorporates English, Khmer and French, along with administrative functions.

The end product is a trilingual catalogue that allows the museum to print labels and important documentation, write conservation reports and locate any piece of art in the museum with the click of a button.

“We can now provide better and much more information,” Kong Vireak, the museum director, said.

The museum is also loosely collaborating with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts’ effort to create a separate online database that covers the entire country. This will, in addition to items within the National Museum, include provincial museums and separate, culturally significant objects located beyond museum walls.

Hab Touch, the director-general for intangible heritage at the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, said: “Before we document on paper, now we are working on a database. I think it’s much easier to manage and to search, and [we’re] also hoping that we can launch on the internet in the future.”

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