The APSARA National Authority (ANA) is mostly known for their work administering, studying and preserving Cambodia’s ancient temple ruins such as Angkor Wat.
Their experts and officials have worked side-by-side with renowned archaeologists and the leading authorities on the preservation of ancient ruins from all over the world for decades now to fulfil their mission of preserving Cambodia’s cultural heritage and educating the public about the Kingdom’s history.
However, at the ANA-administered Asian Traditional Textiles Museum, the artefacts that are on display and that they must diligently care for are not made of stone, wood or metal. Rather, they were created from silk, cotton and other plants, furs and other less durable materials, but the ANA has mastered the techniques necessary to ensure that these valuable reminders of the past will last as long as they need to under the museum’s controlled conditions.
The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation Asian Traditional Textiles Museum (its full name) opened in 2014 in conjunction with all of the countries along the Mekong and Ganges Rivers: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India, with a mission to exhibit the textiles and items made from them that were so important to civilization, culture and trade between those countries for centuries.
Sen Kimsun, acting director of the Asian Traditional Textiles Museum in Siem Reap, said that may it is the first museum in Cambodia to display products made from everything from yarn to bark to kapok fur, depending on the traditions and practices of the culture from which it originated – mostly in the form of clothing, hats, gloves, socks, scarves, turbans and decorative items like rugs and weavings, as well as the tools used in earlier periods to make these goods.
Kimsun said that the museum’s team of experts has taken care to use the right techniques to maintain, protect and conserve these collections from ever being damaged simply through age and time, even though they are already many years old in most cases.
“All the silk, cotton, plant and fur products on display in the museum are not just around for one or two years and then if they get damaged we throw them away and discard them. Our experts know the right techniques to keep them in good condition for as long as possible as well as how to repair items that come to us damaged.
“The Asian Traditional Textiles Museum follows the usual principles in preserving these times over the long-term. First, we must be very careful to prevent any such damage from occurring, so we must consider the techniques for storing them. We can’t just put them on clothes hangers and stick them in a cabinet. Many items must not have lengthy contact with metal or wood or they will be damaged, and we must always guard against insects and handle all of it with care,” he said.
Kimsun said that every morning the museum staff opens up the windows and doors for a short time to prevent any musty or mouldy smells from accumulating in the gallery. They clean the floor and pedestals regularly and change the position of the pedestals to make sure there are no hidden spots with dust, insects or anything that could lead to problems with the collection. They use pesticides in the corners and doors of the gallery and they’ve put up a rat-proof barrier as well.
He added that another point of concern is that if anything in the collection were to be damaged, it must then be repaired immediately according to the best practices and techniques that the museum staff were trained in by experts.
Regarding the exhibition hall, Kimsun pointed out that it is also necessary to control the lighting properly to avoid the fading of colours in the textiles and sunlight can be particularly bad when it comes to fading. On the other hand, setting the temperature is even more important as all of the galleries require thermostats and the building has a cooling and heating system that maintains it at a constant 30 degrees Celsius with 65 per cent humidity.
“In order to be safe about the long-term preservation of those items, the museum also has a ban on visitors bringing in food and drink and there is absolutely no contact or touching anything on display, because that may bring a number of risks to our collections,” he said.
The Asian Traditional Textiles Museum is set to exhibit 11 Cambodian silk items in mid-February, including four silk handkerchiefs and five silk weaving skirts, as well as two ceiling silk weavings donated by the Khmer Traditional Textiles Institute.
The exhibition of these valuable objects is aimed at showcasing the art of Khmer silk weaving because the number of producers of this type of silk weaving is declining alarmingly, and to show the public so that they understand the heritage and works done by their Khmer ancestors.
The Mekong Ganga Cooperation Asian Traditional Textiles Museum is located in Boeung Don Pa village along Samdech Vibol Panha Sok An Street (Street 60m) in Slor Kram commune of Siem Reap town. It is open to the public from 8am to 4:30pm every day except Tuesdays. Admission is $3 for adults, children under 12 get in free.