PARIS-They queued in front of the National Galleries of the Grand Palais. They waited
to get into the museum to look at the first ever joint exhibition of more than a
hundred statues, artifacts and bas-reliefs from Cambodia's National Museum and Paris'
Guimet Museum. The lucky ones even caught a glimpse of Queen Monineath and the president
of the French republic, Jacques Chirac departing. The "Angkor and Ten Centuries
of Khmer Art" exhibition had finally opened in Paris on Jan 31.
"It is an important sign for Cambodia," said the French president as he
and the Queen left the gallery, greeting each other and expressing their appreciation
of the exhibition. The two had spent an hour in the gallery where 111 artifacts are
displayed in chronological order.
The Queen was then on her way to have a lunch at the President's residence. Chirac
is known to have a special interest in Asian arts.
With this exhibition which will run for four months, Paris could once again fall
under the spell of the "Angkor-mania" that seized it after a Colonial Exhibition
in Paris in 1931. At that time, a life size mock-up of Angkor Wat was set up on the
Champs de Mars, near the Eiffel tower and Parisians were able to visit the model
temple. Images of Angkor Wat were seen everywhere and were used to promote the sale
of consumer goods like fridges and soaps. Since the Colonial Exhibition, Angkor has
kept a glamorous image in the memories of the French.
And now with the current exhibition, posters of the head of Jayavarman VII cover
the walls of the metro, the sides of buses and a special catalogue has been published
to commemorate the exhibition.
At least three newspapers have published special issues on the arts of Angkor and
television and the daily papers like Le Figaro and Le Monde have covered the event
with special reports.
"We have received a lot of interest from the media," said Marianne Lemarignier
from Réunion des Musées Nationaux, the public body that organized the
exhibition from the Paris end. "We hope that the public will follow."
Initial reactions from the first official visitors are likely to inspire others to
go and visit.
"It is extraordinary," said Nouth Narang, Minister of Culture as he left
the exhibition. "I was very impressed by the bronze of Vishnu in repose... it
is remarkable," said the minister.
Asked about his previous efforts to block the exhibition, the minister said he was
still concerned that Cambodia's National Museum would be emptied of its central pieces
for a period of two years. The exhibition will stay in Paris till 26 May before appearing
in Washington and then Japan.
In the first exhibit room, holding pre-Angkorian and angkorian style artifacts, the
Durga statue from the National Museum caught the eyes of most visitors.
And then in its own darkened round room a bronze Vishnu from Angkor's Mebon temple,
center stage. The soft lighting brings out the statue's serene expression and its
strikingly bright color.
Its image remains in the memory long after the visit as does a collection of three
heads displayed together in the final exhibit room.
The heads, two of Jayavarman VII and one of a Buddha are presented together for the
first time in the exhibition - creating a beautiful effect.
The members of Cambodia's official delegation were clearly moved by the event.
Van Molyvann, Minister of State in charge of culture, viewed the exhibits with enthusiasm,
while Nouth Narang followed the explanations of Jean-François Jarrige, the
director of Guimet Museum.
Molyvann's wife said she had "rediscovered" a wooden Orant, a praying figure,
the final piece of the exhibition and a good example of the post-Angkorian style.
"In Phnom Penh this statue was in a corner were no-one noticed it," she
"It is really remarkable," said Ang Choulean, a member of Apsara. "Look
at the statue of Harihara, the restoration that has been done here means from the
front you cannot notice that the statue has a bracket behind it. Before, the statue
was disfigured by the bracket."
At the end of the visit Ang Choulean made a conclusive remark: "It is really
good to see that all the statues [from both museums in Paris and Cambodia] are displayed
together. But it make me wonder why in Phnom Penh where we have masterpieces and
a [museum] with very nice architecture we are we not able to do the same."