03.09.2013 -

Cambodia Traditional Sculpture and Carving – A Treasure to be shared

@UNESCO - Sketches Made by Mr. Chan Sim

Cambodia is a kingdom that is tremendously rich in tangible and intangible heritage. Various types of outstanding masterpiece and artistry are well known throughout the country. Unfortunately, such priceless heritage has been destroyed almost to dust during the Khmer Rouge era.

One among the listed Cambodian tangible heritage is sculpture and carving. This form of art was adopted from India. Through continuous stylistic evolution, it came to develop its own originality.

Due to the loss of human resources during the war period, there are not many artists who know how to carve sculpture correctly and traditionally.

Chan Sim, a 75-year-old master of Cambodia traditional sculpture and carving, has been nominated in 2013 by the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts as a human living treasure for his magnificent masterpiece and great effort in sharing his knowledge to the younger generation.

Sim was born Prey Pring village in Chom Chao commune, Dang Kor district, Phnom Penh. After finishing his studies in general education at Champouvan in 1949, He continued his study in the field of Sculpture and Carving at Khmer Fine Arts School in 1952 and graduated in 1957. Two years after finishing his studies, he became a teacher at the school where he graduated in 1959.

In 1969, Sim went on with his education in the field of Tragedy Performance and Decoration. Later, he wished to pursue his education in archaeology, but unfortunately, his dream was washed away by the Khmer Rouge Regime. After the regime collapsed, he came back to Phnom Penh and began his teaching career again, yet this time, he worked for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts.

The master said, “I am specialized in three major fields such as Smet Sculpture (Chamlak Smet), Cement Sculpture, and Traditional Drawing.

Accoding to Sim, Smet Sculpture is a kind of traditional handcrafted sculpture carved using Kramoun (similar to clay) and Diamond Clay (made of sand, cow-dunk and Dey Dambauk). Cement Sculpture is also a kind of handcrafted sculpture carved by using animal or human shaped templates.

With 53 years of experience, Sim said, “The number of people who study sculpture and carving is increasing,” adding, “Within this country, I have many students who have started their own sculpture and carving business after finishing learning from me.”

Though there are a number of students enrolled in this field, Sim also suggested to the government, especially to the Ministry and art organizations involved, that the sculpture and carving should be united and consistent. He said, “Everything has its own instruction, measurement, and meaning.”

He explained by giving an example that Kbach – Motif (the decorative elements of art that can be found on silver crafts, furniture, etc.) has its own measurement and way to use. Kbach Angkor – The Angkorian Style, shaped like snail slime curls or lotus petals, is used with Buddha or God. Kbach Phñi Tes, shaped like intertwining flowers or leaves, is used for the King. Kbach Phñi Voal, shaped like intertwining vine, is used for the high-ranking official or normal people. Kbach Phñi Phleung, shaped like intertwining flame, is used in funeral or war.

To make things clear, Sim said, “It is not wrong if we do not follow the instruction or measurement, but the result of sculpture after being carved will not be good.”

Throughout his career, the master has carved many outstanding sculptures such as the Buddha placed in Wat Lanka, Wat Botum, Neang Kung-Hing, and more in the countryside of Cambodia.

After being nominated as a Living Human Treasure, Sim has stopped carving big sculpture for any big events. Yet, he still provides continuous support to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts by educating a new generation of young artists by teaching.

“I will die one day, so what I can do now is to share what I have learnt from my teachers to the next generation; we must preserve our own cultural treasure,” said Sim.

<- Back to: UNESCO Office in Phnom Penh
Back to top