2017 will mark the Royal University of Fine Arts’ (RUFA) 100-year journey since its inauguration in 1917. As a tribute to the history and development of the institution that has long been cultivating various types of arts and Cambodian culture, an alumnus of the university has recently finished a book entitled “The History of The School of Fine Arts”.
The author is Preap Chanmara, born in 1975 in the Tboung Khmum district of Kampong Cham province, and attended the college of archaeology at RUFA from 1995 to 2000. He currently works as a professor and officer in the university.
In an interview with Post Property, Chanmara said that he had always felt an affinity with the artistic design of lotus petals of the school’s antique architecture.
“I was struck by the ancient-looking architectural structure in the school’s campus. And I had always thought to myself that someday, inevitably, the university will undergo a renovation. So, I started taking pictures of the buildings in the campus ever since.”
Years later, he found that he had accumulated a vast number of photographs and documents related to the school, and now, the product of Chanmara’s documentation comes in the form of his 88-page book containing 146 pictures.
In the book, it is explained that the inauguration of the school had officially come about through the royal decree of then His Royal Highness Preah Sisowath issued on December 14, 1917. During the French colonial period, the school was called Ecole des Arts Cambodgiens.
A following royal decree by His Royal Highness Norodom Sihanouk in 1965 saw the appointment of acclaimed Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann to organise the school – then still named simply The School of Fine Arts – into a more formal institution. From there, the school was renamed to what it now is.
Oum Bunthoeun, a student of the fine arts school in 1973, said that until now, most of the university’s buildings are from the original construction. “Like many others, I feel that the most iconic building is the U-shaped one in the middle of the school’s campus. The building faces east, looming behind the National Museum, which was also intended to be part of the University since the beginning.”
This U-shaped building – now holding the department of history – was, according to Bunthoeun, constructed as a huge workshop by using main rafters on the roof, with its doors and windows featuring incredibly detailed sculptures by well-known sculptors.
Kau, 70, a former student of the school, echoed what is mentioned in Chanmara’s book. Just like the National Museum, which acts as a warehouse for the royal family to store their valuable treasures and heirlooms, the school had been a part of the Royal Palace structure, acting as a workhouse that supplied the palace with household items and utensils.
Over the last few years, there have been rumours that caught the public’s attention surrounding the relocation of the Royal University of Fine Arts, including speculation the university would be relocated from its historic grounds to the opposite shore across the Chroy Changvar bridge.
However, none of the authorities have confirmed whether or not these rumours are true.