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Famed patron of Angkor dies

091204_04
Ikuo Hirayama, the recently deceased Japanese painter and campaigner for the preservation of world cultural heritage, in particular Angkor Wat, attends a meeting in Tokyo last year.

Hirayama was one of the people who initiated the response to the cambodian appeal.

JAPANESE painter Ikuo Hirayama, who campaigned for the preservation of Angkor Wat and other cultural icons and was known for his works on the Silk Road and Buddhism, died on Wednesday at the age of 79.

Hirayama died of a stroke at a Tokyo hospital, according to his art museum in western Hiroshima. He is known for his efforts to preserve global cultural treasures such as the Angkor Wat temples, China’s Mogao Caves and Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Buddhist monuments, which were dynamited in 2001 by the Taliban.

His goal was “to make people of all races and religions aware of the value of these human treasures, thus leading to mutual understanding and the promotion of world peace”, said UNESCO, which made him a goodwill ambassador in 1988.

Teruo Jinnai, representative for UNESCO in Cambodia, described the role played by Hirayama in making the rescue of the Angkor temples an international priority: “Immediately after the 1991 peace accords, King Sihanouk made an appeal to the international community to save Angkor. For UNESCO, this was an opportunity to assist Cambodia through the aspect of culture. Culture unites people … because it is shared by everyone.

“Hirayama was one of the people who initiated the response to the Cambodian appeal.
When Japan wanted to extend assistance and needed an expert, Hirayama was one of the few in Japan who could start to make suggestions,” Jinnai said.

This was in part because Hirayama’s own artistic legacy was born in the aftermath of terrible destruction. At the age of 15, Hirayama survived the atomic blast in Hiroshima. Not only was he a witness to the destruction it caused – Hirayama would struggle with radiation-related illness for decades.

At the Tokyo Conference in 1993, the contributions of Hirayama, alongside Angkor specialist Yoshiaki Ishizawa and others, were instrumental in the formation of the International Coordination Committee (ICC) Angkor, said Jinnai. This body would eventually give way to Apsara, the authority that currently manages the Angkor temple sites.

Hirayama’s 1959 Bukkyo Denrai (The Transmission of Buddhism to Japan), his first widely recognised work, would characterise the artist’s unique style: A modern take on the traditional nihonga tableau, imbuing Buddhist themes with an air of twilit, spectral mystery.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY AFP

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