Seams of Change

Clothing and the care of the self
in late 19th and 20th century Cambodia

Opening reception, January 6, 2004




Reyum is pleased to announce the opening of an exhibition and the publication of a book entitled “Seams of Change: Clothing and the care of the self in late 19th and 20th century Cambodia”. For the last two years, a team of Reyum researchers have been interviewing elderly Cambodians about their lives in order to compile a Memory Bank of everyday life in late 19th and early 20th century Cambodia. For this exhibition and publication, the researchers have focused on the topic of clothing and the care of the self, illuminating traditional types of clothing and longstanding habits of bodily care found in Cambodia before modernisation.

The exhibition and accompanying bilingual publication detail traditional types of cloth and clothing, ways of cutting, sewing, and keeping clothing, as well as habits of beauty and care used prior to the advent of readymade manufactured products. Changes in these habits and traditions during the 20th century are also discussed. A variety of traditional forms of clothing, cloth, and makeup are on display, accompanied by photographs gathered from our elderly interviewees as well as from various archives. Selected videos of the ongoing Memory Bank interviews are also included in the exhibition.

Through these documents and artifacts, forms of clothing such as the long tube shirt, the malayu shirt, the Chinese pants, and the sampot tied in the kben style are described, and the manner in which they were sewn is illuminated. Types of indigenous and imported cloth used to sew such garments are detailed, as are traditional methods of measuring, cutting, and sewing clothing. The exhibition and accompanying publication also describe types of hairstyles and forms of makeup used prior to the ready availability of store bought products. Forms of shampoo, hair oil, skin cream, and nail and lip coloring derived from local natural materials are described and displayed.

“Seams of Change” is made possible by a generous grant from the Rockefeller Foundation.