Khaol is a type of Cambodian theater which presents scenes from the
Reamker (the Khmer version of the Ramayana) as performed
by mostly masked male actors. This exhibition presents masks of the
main characters of Lakhaoun Khaol made by the workshop of An Sok.
We accompany these masks with both a presentation of the story of
this particular theatrical form as it is performed in the village
of Svay Andaet, and with a brief discussion of the technical processes
by which Khmer lacquer masks are made.
opposite walls of the gallery, the two warring forces of the Reamker
face each other. To the right of the entrance are the yeak or demons
le by Krong Reap, the demon King of the island of Langka. On the left
of the entrance are the monkey troops loyal to the hero, Preah Ream,
his brother Preah Leak, and his wife Neang Seda. It is the theft of
Neang Seda by Krong Reap which precipitates most of the ensuing action
of the epic, pitting the army of the monkeys against the army of the
yeak. Between these two sides, in the middle of our exhibition are
the masks of Pipaet and the hermit, figures who are either neutral
in the conflict or who have interaction at one time or another with
both of the warring factions.
masks on display are the centerpiece of our exhibition. We however
wish to set these masks into two contexts. Through the accompanying
photographs on the walls, arranged in sequence with explanatory text
labels, as well as in the catalogue essay, we describe the performance
of Lakhaoun Khaol in its village setting of Vat Svay Andaet. By exhibiting
raw materials such as mrek (natural lacquer resin), unfinished masks,
and lacquer ornament molds on the center tables, we wish to illuminate
the processes of making Khmer lacquer masks. Only a few remaining
artists, such as An Sok, keep these traditional ways of making alive
in the present.
process of preparing this exhibition and its accompanying catalogue
has been an occasion for students of the Archaeology and Fine Arts
Departments of the Royal University of Fine Arts to share their research
on this topic and to put the display of these art objects into an
anthropological light. Our exhibition and the accompanying catalogue
are modest works with many missing pieces. We hope however that they
will spur others, in particular students, to pursue further research
which will deepen our knowledge of the subjects sketched here.