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A Kampong Chhnang villager moulds clay to make a pot
A Kampong Chhnang villager moulds clay to make a pot. MARION GOMMARD

Angkorian pottery respun by Kampong Chhnang villagers

Traditional Angkorian pottery has been resurrected in Kampong Chhnang, with villagers mixing ancient knowledge with modern techniques, a new exhibition illustrates.

Chhnang!, which means ‘pot’, tells the story of how villagers struggling to sell inferior earthenware products learned traditional methods in order to make their goods more attractive.

Photographs, video and pottery assembled for the Cambodian Living Arts (CLA) exhibition illustrate how potters make ash-green or black-brown shapes similar to those sold in ancient times.

Marion Gommard, communications manager at CLA, had the idea for the exhibition when staff from the arts organisation went on a trip to the central province.

She said that villagers are adapting their chhnang-making techniques for the modern world in order to better suit people’s needs.

“The story of the exhibition is really the traditional practice of pottery making and the problems it faces today. When we met the people in Kampong Chhnang, they said this practice is in danger,” she said.

Cambodia’s recent economic development has seen many young people in rural areas moving to cities in an attempt to find work.

According to Gommard, in Kampong Chhnang, the increase in young women seeking garment factory work means that fewer make a living through pottery.

“Communities have to adapt to the contemporary world to be able to keep their activity going,” she said.

The exhibition showcases the improvements being made to communities’ livelihoods with the help of various not-for-profit organisations that are unrelated to CLA.

The Cambodian Pottery Project, for instance, was initiated five years ago by a team of Japanese people who share modern pottery-making techniques with people from Andong Russei village, home to the highest quality clay in the province.

They have built a workshop there, and are training 10 villagers to run their own pottery businesses.

Hiroshi Ake, project co-ordinator at the organisation, said that communities in Kampong Chhang struggled to make a living selling earthenware pots.

“We want to revive and improve Khmer pottery, because earthenware is not strong, and more porous than glazed pottery. The selling price is much cheaper, and villagers have to make and sell a huge amount of earthenware for generating income,” he said.

Around 90 per cent of the Cambodian Pottery Project’s products are sold in Cambodia, with two shops in Phnom Penh.

Sun Chenda, 32, a potter from Andong Russei, said that since attending the workshop, it’s now easier for her to sell her pots. “I am happy that I can bring my clay pots to sell and show at the exhibition. I can sell clay pots to audiences and gain more attraction from people than before,” she said.

She added: “It is very important to encourage other potters to produce it as it is Cambodian heritage, and I believe that everyone should support Khmer products more.”

Chhnang! will open at Cambodian Living Arts’ office on #128-G9 Sothearos Boulevard at 6pm. There will be a dance performance by the Yike Amatak troupe at 6:40pm.

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