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After decades of war and repression, much of Cambodia’s once rich cultural and artistic heritage had been lost: historic sites had been looted, artworks had been smuggled abroad and knowledge of traditional crafts was in decline.
“Sadly, so much of Cambodia’s cultural heritage and artistic knowledge had been lost during the dark days of the Khmer Rouge. The country now rebuilding itself after years of war and suffering.”
The center focuses to search of more insights into the ancient arts of the once vast Khmer Empire. This is a passion that subsequently transformed into an ongoing effort to revive Khmer ceramic arts. The Center began building they own wood-fired kiln in a small studio in Siem Reap and focused on recreating traditional Khmer ceramic techniques and styles.
Siem Reap, just a few kilometres from the world heritage site of Angkor, was the natural choice for a location to start rebuilding Khmer ceramic arts. It was near there that the oldest pottery wheel ever discovered in Cambodia was found, one of many indications that in the past there had been a thriving ceramics industry in the area. And Siem Reap was starting to build a burgeoning tourism industry, making the city the ideal hub from which to spread knowledge about Cambodian arts around the world.
Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Center was founded in 2006 and began with the name of ‘’NCKCR’’ (the National Centre for Khmer Ceramic Revival) a non-profit, non-governmental organisation with the aim of revitalising the Cambodian ceramics industry. “The center organise and invited ceramic artists and experts to Siem Reap for a series of conferences. On the one hand, Khmer Ceramics Center wanted to help spread the word about Cambodian arts internationally and, on the other, wanted local potters to be able to benefit from the knowledge of outside experts in the ceramics field, so as to help create a sustainable local industry.
The efforts paid off. Today, Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts Centre employs more than 60 people directly, 75% of them women, as well as providing an outlet for the works of many other local artisans, including villagers near Siem Reap who weave baskets and palm leaf boxes, produce handmade wood and stone carvings, and make natural jewellery.
The centre has also brought innovation to the Khmer ceramics industry. From one wood-fired kiln, the centre now uses gas-fired kilns and advanced production techniques, helping to raise the quality of its products while maintaining traditional processes and styles.
“The Center focus predominantly on handmade traditional Khmer art, particularly the tradition of kbach, which is most evident in the stone carvings of the Angkor temples and at other historic sites around the country. Kbach-style ceramics are carved with representations of a variety of shapes found in nature such as lotus petals, leaves, flames and water, each of which have a particular meaning and can be used to tell a story,” the centre’s founder explains.
“The Center produce tableware, such as cups, plates and bowls, in the kbach style as well as decorative items. We also produce sculptures and reliefs related to Khmer culture, including stoneware representations of Buddha, Ganesh and Apsara dancers.”
Many of the products are sold locally to visitors and businesses, including high-end hotels and restaurants across Cambodia, and the centre also exports to Europe and the United States, Canada and Australia to customers that include home decor stores and designer boutiques.
Visitors to the centre in Siem Reap can see local craftspeople at work, using traditional potter’s wheels and moulding and sculpting the clay. Khmer Ceramics and Fine Arts Centre also offers pottery and clay classes for visitors, giving everyone the chance to try their hand at the ancient art.
Having overcome many challenges over the years, not least having to produce everything – from kilns and clay to tools and glazes – from scratch, the success of the project is evidence of the dedication and passion of the team. That is not going to change any time soon.
“Khmer Ceramics & Fine Arts Center want to continue to expand and reach other communities in Cambodia. As a social enterprise, the center want to help as many communities as possible, particularly disadvantaged groups, and create new training and job opportunities. As such, we are keen to diversify our products and include more artisans in different fields, while maintaining good working conditions for our employees and trainees.”