Calling the Souls

An Exhibition by Ang Choulean and Ashley Thompson

Opening Lecture in Khmer on August 25, 2004 at 4 pm
Opening Lecture in English on August 26, 2004 at 5:30 pm




This exhibition and accompanying publications explore pralung, a Khmer term often translated as “soul” or "vital spirit". Pralung are believed to animate human beings as well as certain objects, plants, and animals. As the pralung are fragile and can easily be lured away or lost from the person or thing to whom they belong, many types of rites are performed to call them back. These generally involve a recitation or performance of the poem known as the “Hau Pralung”, or the “Calling of the Souls”, one of the earliest extant literary-ritual works in Khmer.

Though themselves invisible, pralung are represented in a wide variety of ways, figuring in numerous ritual celebrations from birth and death rites to Buddhist ordination. The opening section of the exhibition considers these representations, with a photographic essay, based on extensive fieldwork throughout Cambodia, accompanied by explanatory texts in Khmer, English and French. In the back section of Reyum, an installation by students from the Reyum Art School materialises the 17th century poem through representations of the heavens and the forest. Audio and video presentations as well as wall text allow the viewer to the exhibition to experience the ritual and its context. As such, the exhibition is an attempt to explore the relations between such “traditional” rituals and the “modern” rituals that are organized in art galleries. Rather than reifying and museum-ifying the ceremony through a rigidly scientific or artistic gaze, it is hoped that some communication can be established between the aesthetic, intellectual and spiritual experience of the Hau Pralung and that of the exhibition.

A catalogue by Dr. Ang Choulean entitled Brah Ling, accompanies the exhibition. In October, Reyum will publish a book by Ashley Thompson entitled Calling the Souls: A Cambodian Ritual Text. This book includes the 17th-century Khmer therapeutic poem, annotated English and French translations of the poem, and an extensive introductory essay in English and French.

The exhibition and its accompanying publications are funded by generous grants from the Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation and the Friends of Khmer Culture.