The main activities of the National Museum of Cambodia
include exhibiting, safeguarding and promoting understanding of
Cambodia’s cultural and artistic treasures. Keeping objects
safe and working to ensure the repatriation of pieces stolen from
Cambodia are important aspects of the museum’s work, particularly
as looting and illicit export of cultural material are a continuing
concern. In addition, the Museum strives to engage its visitors
through its exhibitions and to fulfil its role as an integral part
of the community. The Museum believes that Cambodia’s cultural
heritage is of great value and can provide a source of pride and
identity to the Cambodian people who have lost so much in recent
decades. The availability of multilingual Museum tour guides and
Publications, as well as the Museum’s public library, all
serve to increase the accessibility of the collection both for local
and international visitors.
Under the auspices of the Cambodian Department of Museums, the Museum
has responsibility not only for its own collection, staff and premises
but also to support and oversee all other museums in Cambodia.
Outside of Cambodia, the Museum has an active policy
of lending objects from its collection for major international exhibitions.
This practice was in place before Cambodia’s recent decades
of unrest and was reinstituted in the 1990s, starting with an exhibition
held at the National Gallery of Australia in 1992. Subsequent exhibitions
have been held in France, the USA, Japan and Germany. The exhibitions
to Australia and France have resulted in significant professional
and structural assistance to the Museum from the governments of
those countries and it is hoped that international exhibitions will
continue to attract such support.
The turmoil of recent decades has devastated all
aspects of Cambodian life including the cultural realm. During the
years of Khmer Rouge control the Museum, along with the rest of
Phnom Penh, was evacuated and abandoned. The Museum suffered from
neglect during this time and after the liberation of Phnom Penh
on 7 January 1979 it was found in disrepair, its roof rotten, collection
in disarray and garden overgrown. The Museum was quickly tidied
up and reopened to the public on 13 April 1979. Tragically, however,
many of the Museum’s employees had lost their lives during
the Khmer Rouge regime. The resulting loss of expertise, combined
with the deterioration of the Museum building and its collection,
have made rehabilitation of the Museum a daunting task.
Despite such obstacles the last decade has seen
considerable progress, with generous assistance from individuals,
foreign governments and numerous philanthropic organizations. In
recent years the Museum has successfully addressed a range of key
concerns. These include:
The removal of a colony of bats inhabiting the Museum’s
roof, a problem that threatened not only the preservation
of objects on display which were subject to serious damage
as a result of falling bat guano, but the health of Museum
visitors and staff.
Upgrading library holdings, facilities and administration
and the creation of well-catalogued archives and inventory
files which are now stored in a climate-controlled repository.
The first temporary exhibition at the Museum since its official
opening in 1920, ‘The Ganesha of the National Museum’,
was held in 2000 and further collection-based temporary exhibitions
Making considerable inroads on the conservation of its collection
following training and assistance from the National Gallery
of Australia in the 1990s and later the French government.
France continues to fund the development of the museum’s
conservation workshop, employing a stone and wood conservator
who has successfully trained a team of Khmer staff in these
areas of expertise. This funding not only supports the workshop
itself but provides salary supplements for the staff involved.
Playing an active role in the restitution and subsequent
care of looted artifacts. Supported by the efforts of UNESCO’s
International Council of Museums (ICOM) and their publications
One hundred missing objects: Looting in Angkor, eight
objects have been successfully returned to Cambodia since
1996. A further two are currently under investigation. Some
of the pieces have been returned by private individuals while
others have come from international institutions including
the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Honolulu
Academy of Arts.
Upgrading of storage facilities. The National Museum of
Cambodia collection storage area, which houses some 90% of
the collection, is located in the basement of the building
and subject to regular flooding during the wet season. In
collaboration with UNESCO, a series of improvements began
in 1993 to renovate the basement to protect the collection
from flood damage and general deterioration. The collaboration
ensured all artifacts were placed on secure shelving raised
above the ground. An automatic pump and internal pond were
introduced in 1997 to catch and dispel floodwater. Private
donors have also contributed to improving the Museum’s
Addressing the needs of the community. The Museum functions
not only as a repository and display place for Khmer cultural
material but, with its collection of important Buddhist and
Hindu sculpture, also addresses community religious needs
as a place of worship. The permanent exhibition, ‘Post-Angkorian
Buddha’, supported by UNESCO and a number of individuals
and local businesses, opened in 2000 to extend the religious
function of the Museum.
Publishing the collection. A comprehensive guidebook to
the Museum’s collections was first published in 2002
in Khmer, English and French.