Much like the hopes for peace in Cambodia, so too is the National Museum in Phnom
Penh enjoying a resurrection of hope for its art collections.
The many works of art housed in the museum were left to fend for themselves during
the Pol Pot years and during much of the Vietnamese occupation.
But now, as a result of a successful exhibition of Cambodian sculptures in Australia
and artwork collected from the provinces, the condition of the collection at the
museum is improving.
Museum officials have recovered 37 sculptures from Battambang and Banteay Meanchey,
and last year they collected 15 sculptures from the Army, the police, the Ministry
of Trade, and some were captured from robbers' larders.
Many of the sculptures-dating from centuries ago-are in need of repair or restoration.
"So far we haven't had a budget for repairing the sculptures or the museum building
itself. What we did was only prevent further deterioration," said Pich Keo,
the director of the National Museum. "The repairing of artwork is highly-skilled
work, and we need financial assistance, materials and specialized skills."
Still the problem of theft at the museum-as well as the sale of pilfered Cambodian
artworks over the years in markets and galleries worldwide-dismays Pich.
"As you can see, the National Museum is difficult to protect," he said
as he led a tour of the facility near the Royal Palace. "The thieves like it
so much that we need a strong security force on guard every single day, 24 hours
The last robbery attempt was thwarted by museum guards. Cambodian officials-as well
as art galleries and authorities worldwide-were notified to be on the lookout for
hot Cambodian artworks.
Meanwhile, 33 sculptures from the National Museum traveled to the Australian National
Museum last July for an exhibition, the first time any Cambodian artworks have been
officially displayed outside the country.
The curator of Asian Art at the Australian museum, Dr. Michael Brand, said that many
of the 30,000 people who saw the exhibition in Canberra, "were just amazed at
the quality of the sculptures."
"People told me it was the best exhibit they had ever seen at the National Gallery,"
One reason that people were so happy with the exhibit, he believes, was that Cambodian
art had been "invisible" to the world for the last 20 years-a time when
it was difficult for people visit Angkor Wat or even Phnom Penh.
A collaboration between his museum and the National Museum on restoration of the
artworks and the museum facility will cost U.S. $120,000.
"We have to move the bats out and clean up their droppings, and to fix the places
where the wood is rotten," said Brand.
"The reason why we are doing this is that Cambodian art is one of the most important
achievements of world culture and the museum here houses the world's greatest collection
of Cambodian sculpture," he added. "We want to help our Cambodian friends
preserve Cambodian art for Cambodians, but also to preserve Cambodian art for the