Michigan Museum Displays Rich History of Cambodian Art

Michigan Museum Decided to Put On Display 80 Pieces of Cambodian Art, Curated by Chanchani in Ann Arbor.

Mar 10, 2024By Angela Davic, News, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and Analysis
Michigan Museum
The University of Michigan Museum of Art. Via Wikipedia.


Michigan Museum is now displaying 80 works of Cambodian art in Ann Arbour, coordinated by Chanchani. The exhibit, titled “Angkor Complex: Cultural Heritage and Post-Genocide Memory in Cambodia“, began on February 3 and will run until July 28. It features pieces by artists such as Vann Nath, Sopheap Pich, Svay Sareth, Amy Lee Sanford and Leang Seckon.


Michigan Museum Highlights Cambodian History

Michigan Museum
Cambodian historical and contemporary arts. Photo courtesy of UMMA.


Nachiket Chanchani’s first visit to Angkor Wat was six years ago. Driven, the architectural scholar began to consider the connections between the complexity of modern post-genocide Cambodia and the old temple compound. Chanchani, an associate art history professor at the University of Michigan, continued meditating on Angkor Wat. He also compared the religious complex to art developed since the Khmer Rouge massacred approximately 2 million Cambodians between 1975 and 1979.


During the pandemic, his thoughts crystallised among widespread misery, anxiety, and fear. “I thought that this art, both from the deep past and from more recent times in Cambodia, can teach us lessons of how to kind of stay stable, find some way forward”, the curator said. The Angkor Archaeological Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, spans approximately 155 square kilometres. Once a city of roughly a million people, the site houses some of Cambodia’s finest landmarks.


Michigan Museum
Photo courtesy of UMMA.


This includes those that gained worldwide recognition for their roles in films such as “Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and In the Mood for Love”. Chanchani saw how the exhibit could “allow us to think about these different layers, these different kinds of ideas of complexness”. Today, “Cambodians regard Angkor Wat as a sacred centre, a national symbol, and a site of memory”, according to the exhibition guide.

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Putting Cambodia on the Map

Cambodian art
Photo courtesy of UMMA.


Chanchani felt that bringing Cambodian art to the United States would comfort spectators. For some Cambodians, it can appear as if, 40 years later, the country is unable to carry on or show off a new face, while it still gets alluded to in a setting of previous sorrow. This is especially on the international stage. Reaksmey Yean, a Cambodian art writer, spoke about the exhibit. “An exhibition about Cambodia, its history and culture is rare in the U.S., so I think it is important to have the exhibition to put Cambodia on the map”, he said.


But he also added: “However, it is a cliche for me, because it’s been more than 20 years when our civil war completely ended, and there is so much in our cultures that can be shown”. According to Museum Director Christina Olsen, visitors will have the opportunity to study about Cambodia’s “distinct cultural and political significance”.


The museum. Via Ruan Nancy


“At the same time, the exhibition invites consideration of today’s broader cultural, social and political happenings and fosters dialogue about the lessons that can be taken from the pain and resilience of the Cambodian people”, she added in the press release. Artists want to show the viewers in the United States to witness how the post-genocide in Cambodia affects the intergeneration.

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By Angela DavicNews, Discoveries, In-depth Reporting, and AnalysisAngela is a journalism student at the Faculty of Political Science in Belgrade and received a scholarship for continued education in Prague. She completed her internship at the daily newspaper DANAS and worked as an executive editor at Talas.