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Ancient Angkor Temple of Cambodia back to life

North Korean painters revive Angkor Temple.

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  • Paintings of Angkorian Empire by North Korean painters have been exhibited at the Angkor Panorama Museum near Angkor Wat temple
  • North Korea spent $24 million and four years building the nearly 6,000-square-meter museum, which rises to an imposing height of 35 meters.
  • The museum was built in the spirit of cultural promotion, friendship and cooperation rather than income generation.
  • There is some controversy as to why North Korea would be interested in such a project.

The Angkor Wat temple in Cambodia gets a museum for itself due to North Korean investors. North Korea decided to build a museum for the Angkor Wat temple which would have painters from North Korea depicting the trees, plants and huts in a three-dimensional way. It has murals depicting thousands of warriors and artisans at war and work in the Angkorian Empire. Here is a story from VOA:

Welcome to North Korea’s Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Reap, Cambodia, a joint venture between the Cambodian government and North Korea’s long-established Mansudae Art Studio,open since December.

The mural, which took 63 painters from North Korea’s most famous school of political artistry two years to complete, is so captivating that some visitors quietly question its authenticity, wondering aloud if it isn’t some sly video projection.

 

“Amazing! I can see everything…just sitting here in one place you can see everything,” said Keo Samoun of Cambodia’s Banteay Meanchey province.  Viewing the art after a stop at Angkor Wat and Bayon Temple, she said the museum helps place the temples in a historical landscape.  “It’s easier to visit the museum than some of the far-flung temples dotting the province,” she added.

“I have never seen anyone paint anything like this,” said Thoam Manun Tho, a Buddhist monk. “Amazing. Absolutely amazing!” he exclaimed, violating museum decorum by loudly invoking one of the viewing platform’s most commonly overhead refrains.

In the Angkor era

Known for doing things on a vast scale, Mansudae was founded in 1959 to extol the revolutionary virtues of North Korea and its ruling family.

“With a labor force of approximately 4,000 people, 1,000 of which [are] artists, and an area of over 120,000 square meters, 80,000 of which are indoor, the Mansudae Art Studio is probably the largest art production center in the world and by far the largest and most important of the country,” the Pyongyang-based studio’s website says.

Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons
Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons

Part of Mansudae’s overseas expansion, a bid to raise foreign capital for the isolated regime of Kim Jong-un, the Angkor Panorama Museum offers a Socialist-Realist glimpse back to a time when Khmer warriors battled with spears, swords and huge fighting elephants. The empire also built stunning temples, now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3W__Ks89Y9U

“[Visitors] feel as if they are right there during the Angkor era,” Yit Chandaroat, museum vice executive director, told VOA Khmer. “They feel as if they are with the people selling vegetables [or] those on the fighting elephants in the painting.”

A visit to the museum should precede tours of the nearby temples, Chandaroat said, as more than 40,000 images of ancient warriors, artisans, farmers and animals help place those structures in a richer historical context.

Ticket sales and nuclear weapons

North Korea spent $24 million and four years building the nearly 6,000-square-meter museum, which rises to an imposing height of 35 meters.

Pyongyang’s decision to invest in Siem Reap was an act of fraternity between old friends, Chandaroat said.  According to the contract, North Korea would completely reclaim its $24 million investment over a 10-year period.

Carvings from Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons
Carvings from Angkor Wat temple. Image source Wikimedia commons

At least, that was the plan. The 10-year recovery period for the initial investment was recently deemed too ambitious, and North Korea is not likely to see its original investment returned until the second 10-year contract, said Chandaroat, who is also a senior official at the Cambodian government entity managing the Angkor Archeological Park.

The museum and its painted panorama are slated to become fully owned by Cambodia under the agreement within 20 years.

Chandaroat denies links between museum ticket sales and funding for North Korean weapons of mass destruction.

Thai Norak Sathya, Secretary of State for Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, says the museum was built in the spirit of cultural promotion, friendship and cooperation rather than income generation.

“The North Korean company came to build the museum because of historical relations of the king with the country,” Thai Norak Sathya told VOA. “Let me tell you that the North Korean company completely abides by the technical condition and Khmer style of art. So, it is not the nature of this business to generate income.”

Foreign visitors turn up their noses

For now, one of the profitability issues facing museum officials is that 90 percent of visitors are Cambodian. Foreign tourists, who bring much needed hard currency to Siem Reap’s economy, have been prone to dismiss the museum.

English tourists Sarah and Ashley say they’ve traveled too far just to see a mere painting of the Angkor temples.

“I am quite surprised that they invested so much outside North Korea,” said Sarah, who only gave her first name.

“I want to see the real things. That is what I am here for,” Ashley added. “That is what we are going to do today. I am not interested to go to the museum.”

 

“I am not aware of what’s inside,” Christelle Bimar, a French tourist said, sitting in a wheelchair in the shade of a palm tree in front of Angkor temple. She was unaware of the panorama museum but had already visited the Angkor Wat temple despite of her left leg broken. “But, yes, I think Angkor and Siem Reap deserve to have many more museums,” she added.

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The Other Side of “Hindu Pakistan”

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province

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The-Other-Side-of-“Hindu-Pakistan”
The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures.

Sagarneel Sinha

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country. BJP didn’t let the opportunity go by launching a scathing attack on Tharoor and his party for insulting Hindus and Indian democracy, forcing the Congress party to distance itself from its own MP’s comment. Only one year is left for the next general elections and in a politically polarised environment such comments serve as masala for political battles where perception is an important factor among the electorates.

Actually, Tharoor, through his statement, is trying to convey that “India may become a
fundamentalist state just like its neighbour — Pakistan”. Tharoor is a shrewd politician and his remarks are mainly for political gains. The comments refer to our neighbour going to polls on 25 th of this month which has a long history of ignoring minorities where the state institutions serve as a tool for glorifying the religious majority bloc and ridiculing the minorities. This compelled me to ponder about the participation of the Hindus — the largest minority bloc of the country, in the upcoming polls.

There are total 37 reserved seats for minorities in Pakistan — 10 in the National Assembly
(Lower House), 4 in the Senate (Upper House) and 23 in various state legislatures — 9 in the Sindh assembly, 8 in Punjab and 3 each in Balochistan and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Pakistani Hindus, like other minorities have the dual voting rights in principle. But the reality is they have no rights to vote for their own representatives as the seats are reserved — means the distribution of these seats are at the discretion of parties’ leadership. Practically speaking, these reserved seats are meant for political parties not for minorities. In case of general seats, it is almost impossible for a Hindu candidate to win until and unless supported by the mainstream parties of the country. The bitter truth is — the mainstream parties have always ignored the Hindus by hesitating to field them from general seats. In 2013, only one Hindu candidate — Mahesh Kumar from the Tharparkar district won from a general seat, also became the only minority candidate to make it to the National Assembly from a general seat. This time too, he is nominated by the Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) — a major centre-left party of Pakistan. However, there are no other Hindu candidates for a general seat from the two other significant centre-right parties — former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) and cricketer turned politician Imran Khan’s Tehreek-E-Insaf (PTI). Although, there is a Hindu candidate named Sanjay Berwani from Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) — a Karachi (capital of Sindh province) based secular centrist party of Pakistan.

Shashi_tharoor
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor’s remark that India would become a “Hindu Pakistan” if the BJP is
elected again in 2019, sparked off a major debate among the political circles of the country.

The Hindu population in Pakistan is about 1.8% according to the 2018 census, 0.2% more than that of the 1998 and the 1951 figures. It means that despite the state’s hostile policies, Hindus have been able to remain stable in a highly Islamist polarised society. 90% of the Hindu population of the country lives in the Sindh province. Hindu population in Umerkot,Tharparkar and Mirpur Khas districts of the Sindh province stands at 49%, 46% and 33% respectively — making them the only three substantial Hindu districts of the country. The three districts have 5 National Assembly and 13 Provincial seats. However, Hindus have never well represented from these seats.

Although, the mainstream parties stay away from nominating Hindus, this time there are many independent Hindu candidates contesting from general seats — mostly from the Sindh province. Many of them belong to the Schedule caste — the Dalit community. A recent report based on Pakistan Election Commission’s data says that out of 2.5 lakh women of Tharparkar district, around 2 lakh of them are not included in the electoral list — means that they are not entitled to vote for the upcoming general elections. All over the country, there are about 1.21 crore women voters who will not be able to vote in the elections. The reason is the lack of an identity card. Most of them are poor who are unable to pay the expenses required for an identity card. This has made difficult for independent Hindu Dalit candidates like Sunita Parmar and Tulsi Balani as most of their supporters will not be voting in the upcoming polls. In Tharparkar district, around 33% percent are the Hindu Dalits — brushed aside by the mainstream parties. The reserved seat candidates are based on party nominations, where mainly the upper caste Hindus are preferred. Radha Bheel, a first time contestant and the chairperson of Dalit Suhaag Tehreek (DST), a Dalit organisation, says that the fight is for the rights of the lower socio-economic class and scheduled castes. Sunita, Tulsi, Radha and the other independent Hindu candidates know
that the possibility of winning from the general seats is bleak but for them the contest is for their own identity — an identity never recognised by the political parties and the establishment of Pakistan.