“Wat Painting In Cambodia”

Opening reception, May 18, 2007



In 2001, Reyum Institute started a research project on paintings in Wats (Buddhist temples). The aim of the project was to photograph the mural paintings found in most Wats in Cambodia as well as collecting data about the temples through interviews. San Phalla, who just graduated from the Department of Archaeology in Phnom Penh was the first researcher to conduct the field research. Because most of temples tend to replace old paintings by recovering them with new ones, or simply knocking down the buildings themselves, we were faced with the urgency to document as many temples as possible instead of studying each of them in details. Thus we could not study each of them in details.

For more than six years, from 2001 to 2006, San Phalla and other fellow young researchers Tho Pisey, Thon Sopheak visited more than 600 Wats in all over Cambodia and took over 20,000 photographs of temple paintings along with brief notes on each temple. Our choice to document prove to be a good one as today several temples we surveyed have been knocked down and replaced with new structures without any documentations.

Most paintings found in Wats depict Buddhist themes such as Buddha’s last life before entering the Nirvana, or his previous lives, known as Jataka. But more specifically, there are also scenes from the Reamker (khmer version of the Ramayana) as well as popular themes such as local folktales.

In 2004, when we started to review the collected data, we came to realize that not only we should organize it so that it can be accessed and used by scholars and the general public, but also the idea of compiling a book and mounting an exhibition based on the photographs came along. The book and exhibition would raise awareness about the topic among the general public. And it is our hope that the data we collected so far would contribute as a resource for further research and advance our understanding of Cambodian culture.

We would like to take this opportunity to express our profound gratitude to all those who have given us supports and encouragement. We wish to thank also the Toyota foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation, the Prince Claus Fund for their financial support to this project.

Curatorial conception: Ly Daravuth, Preap Chanmara
Researcher: San Phalla
English Translation: Siyon Sophearith

Research and Documentation: “Wat Painting in Cambodia”
Conception: Ly Daravuth and Ingrid Muan
Researchers: San Phalla (2001-2006), Tho Pisey (2001), Thon Sopheak (2002-2005)

With the support of:
The Toyota Foundation – The Rockefeller Foundation - The Albert Kunstadter Family Foundation