Painted by Chet Chan. Bilingual text in Khmer and English, hardcover,
156 pages, illustrated with more than 150 colour illustrations. Published
2002, Reyum Publishing. Available at Paragon Book Gallery at The Promenade
and Asia Books.
Over the centuries, the Indian epic the Ramayana spread throughout
Southeast Asia and was transformed into many local versions and variations.
In a recently published book entitled The Reamker, a Cambodian version
of the Ramayana is presented which not only offers a readily accessible
synopsis of the many characters and scenes of the story, but also
considers the way in which main characters of the epic have been rendered
in traditional painted representations.
The book is a collaboration between the Reyum Institute of Arts and
Culture (Phnom Penh, Cambodia) and Chet Chan, a painter trained at
the School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh during the early 1960s. Funding
for the research for the book was provided by the Kasumisou Foundation.
The bilingual book opens with an edited version of the story of the
Reamker, written by Thiounn, the Minister of the Royal Palace in Phnom
Penh at the turn of the century. Thiounn's text condenses the often
complex story into brief verses which follow the large painted Reamker
mural still visible on the Royal Palace walls in Phnom Penh today.
In the Reyum publication, this textual version of the Reamker is followed
by more than 60 illustrations of individual characters as painted
by Chet Chan. Through this catalogue of representations, as well as
by an accompanying illustrated essay, the book raises the issue of
how the many characters of the story have traditionally been represented
in order to distinguish each character from the other by characteristic
skin colours, headdresses, or other physical attributes.
By studying this catalogue, the perceptive reader will be able to
identify individual characters of the Reamker as well as the stories
in which they are represented. The book ends with a final photo essay,
detailing the process through which Chet Chan makes one of his tempera
and gold-leaf paintings on silk. Again, the didactic intent of the
publication is clear: by studying the pictures, the reader can learn
the process of making a traditional Cambodian painting.
Richly illustrated in full colour, The Reamker will please a wide
range of readers. Young children will be entranced by the images of
monkeys and demons, visitors to the region will be happy to learn
the story and identify some of the characters of the Reamker, while
regional scholars will be eager to study one of the first recent treatments
of the Cambodian version of the Ramayana. –RT