Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - From Siem Reap, dolls find new life as Apsara dancers



From Siem Reap, dolls find new life as Apsara dancers

Cheab Sibora has been making his quirky Apsara and Khmer-styled Barbie dolls for the past three years
Cheab Sibora has been making his quirky Apsara and Khmer-styled Barbie dolls for the past three years. CHEAB SIBORA

From Siem Reap, dolls find new life as Apsara dancers

In Spain, you see them dressed and moulded into kitsch and colourful flamenco dancers. In Vietnam, wistful girls wear ao dai. But there appears to be one national character Barbie and her imitators have not yet inhabited: the Apsara maiden.

In Siem Reap, where you would be hard pressed finding a craft not exploited for souvenir-selling, Cheab Sibora, 21, has been turning the iconic plastic Barbie doll into bejewelled, ikat-clad Apsara dancers for friends and family since 2011 but is now hoping to turn them over for profit.

The enterprising arts-and-crafter designs his Apsara dolls with traditional-looking Khmer fabric and miniature gold headdresses made by hand. Transforming the typically blonde, blue-eyed dolls with pointed toes and inhuman proportions into dark-haired Apsara figures requires special attention to every aspect of the doll’s outfit, Sibora explains.

“I spend time designing the clothes and matching them with Barbie’s face and hair. If I push myself, I can do it in 15 days but normally it takes around 60 days.

“The speed of my work depends on whether or not Barbie dolls are available from the market or the shop – sometimes they sell them second-hand or new, but sometimes they’re not available.”

The cost of the dolls depends on what model he can get his hands on – though he insists on using the genuine item.

“A second-hand Barbie doll costs $12 to $15, and a new one costs anything between $9 and $40 depending on quality. The cost of jewellery completely depends on the style, the importance of which rests on material design. My dolls are different from simple dolls that cost 2,500 riel [$0.63] because of the quality of the hair and face.”

Outside of his doll-making, Sibora was hoping to study in Phnom Penh but wasn’t able to get a scholarship. He’s now set to attend a private school in Siem Reap, where he wants to study languages. With support from his family, friends and the local press, he claims to be the only artist creating Apsara dancer dolls. So far he has created 10 traditionally dressed dolls and had displayed them at a local fashion design show.

Now that they’ve proved popular with the public, he’d like to move away from Barbie and find a more Khmer-looking doll to work with.

“I want to make more dolls, but my studies mean I’m too busy. But I plan to make Khmer dolls in the future rather than Barbies, and my family and friends are encouraging me to do this,” he says.

“Even though I’m trying, I can’t make a hundred per cent traditional Khmer face and hair because I got the dolls from other countries, particularly China. This means I have to darken the Barbies’ face and hair colour.”

MOST VIEWED

  • Prince Norodom Ranariddh passes away at 77

    Prince Norodom Ranariddh, the second son of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk and former First Prime Minister of Cambodia, has passed away in France at the age of 77. “Samdech Krom Preah Norodom Ranariddh has passed away this morning in France just after 9am Paris-time,”

  • General’s gun smuggling ring busted

    The Military Police sent six military officers to court on November 22 to face prosecution for possession of 105 illegal rifles and arms smuggling, while investigators say they are still hunting down additional accomplices. Sao Sokha, deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces and commander of

  • Cambodia, Thailand to discuss border reopening

    Cambodian authorities from provinces along the Cambodia-Thailand border will meet with Thai counterparts to discuss reopening border checkpoints to facilitate travel, transfer of products and cross-border trade between the two countries. Banteay Meanchey provincial deputy governor Ly Sary said on November 22 that the provincial administration

  • More Cambodians studying in US

    The number of Cambodian students studying at US colleges and universities in 2020-21 increased by 14.3 per cent over the previous year despite the Covid-19 pandemic, according to a recent US government report. The 2021 Open Doors report on International Educational Exchange showed that 848 Cambodian students studied

  • Banteay Meanchey gunfight sees 15 Thais arrested, three officers injured

    The Banteay Meanchey Military Police have arrested 15 Thai suspects and their accomplices after a gun battle between two Thai groups caused injuries to three police officers in the early hours of November 21, local authorities said. National Military Police spokesman Eng Hy said that according to

  • PM: Do not defile Tonle Sap swamp forest or else

    Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered police to arrest anyone – including government officials – involved with the deforestation of the flooded forests surrounding the Tonle Sap Lake because it is an area important to the spawning of many species of fish, among other reasons. Speaking in a