Artist Chan Sophorn has announced his plan to research and compile a book on the Khmer silk weaving practices of six provinces in Cambodia if he can obtain the support and sponsorship of enough members of the public, who are being asked to donate just 4,000 riel each ($1).
Sophorn was born into a farming family in Kampong Trabek district of Prey Veng Province. He graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in visual arts and fine arts from the Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) in 2010 and then went on to earn his Master’s degree from South Korea’s Sang Myung University in 2014.
Sophorn, currently employed as a professor at RUFA, said that although Khmer silk weaving is an important traditional form of Khmer art, there is no clear reference materials documenting its practices and traditions, which is why he wants to compile a book on the subject to leave for the next generation of Cambodian students to be able to study and learn from.
“In the near future, I can see that there’s some risk that if a project like this isn’t carried out then we the art form could die and we could lose an important part of our cultural heritage. Therefore, my concern as a Cambodian is to compile this book as an immortal legacy for the next generation of Cambodians to be able to know and understand what belonged to their ancestors, dating from thousands of years back. I want to cultivate their mindset to love and support their heritage and never lose any part of it,” he said.
Sophorn said that the locations to be surveyed to collect more data for the book would first be in Takeo, second in Siem Reap, third in Prey Vang, fourth in Banteay Meanchey, fifth in Koh Dach and sixth in the Surin and Borei Ram provinces of Thailand.
He said that since this would not be a small-scale project and would be one that relies on facts, cultural knowledge and historical data rather than the imagination, it would require the help of relevant institutions and the communities that have kept this cultural heritage alive, which is why funding is needed to support the research and compile the data, something that he can’t do on his own.
Sophorn noted that when he finished his Master’s degree in South Korea, the school asked him to stay on and teach at the university with a salary of more than $3,000 per month, but he still decided to return to Cambodia to bring the skills and knowledge he’d acquired in order to continue training Cambodian students, which he said indicated his motivation in asking for donations is definitely not greed.
The 40-year-old artist also stated that compiling this book was a long-held dream of his and an important one for Cambodian culture because as far back as 100 BC the Khmer people already knew how to weave and were actively doing so, but there exists no detailed documentation of the practice, rather just archaeological evidence in the form of thread, yarn and weaver’s shuttles from that period.
“Preparing a book on Khmer silk weaving has been my dream for a long time. Moreover, what motivates me the most are the colours of the silk skirts, which has always made me want to know more about things belonging to the Khmer ancestors.
“During the Khmer Rouge era, the documents that existed about it along with all these valuable objects melted away almost completely. Today, our country is independent, peaceful and has developed in all areas, and Khmer silk skirts have survived, reborn and rich in colours.
“Unfortunately, recently with the free market opened up, silk fabrics and foreign silk skirts are being imported at sharply increased rates and they are cheaper than the local handicrafts, which has forced many weavers to give up their ancestral careers and go to work in factories or migrate abroad,” he said.