Australia Showcases Ancient Khmer Sculptures

Three of Cambodia’s iconic sculptures, dating as far back as the seventh century, have been unveiled at the National Gallery of Australia. The art is on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia and will be displayed for three years. Included is one of the oldest Buddhist sculptures found in the Kingdom, a seventh-century standing Buddha.

The pieces were unveiled at the end of August as part of a cultural relationship in place since the early 1990s, when the Australian museum hosted its The Age of Angkor exhibition.

“This loan, from one of the world’s great collections, transforms our ability to tell the story of mainland Southeast Asian art,” says National Gallery director Dr Ron Radford. Though the museum aims to showcase art from Australia’s nearest neighbours, it currently has few “fine” Khmer sculptures, Radford adds. “I am delighted to see these wonderful works on display.”

The sculptures span five centuries, with a 10th-century carved lintel showing part of the Hindu creation story, The Churning of the Sea of Milk, and a rare 12th-13th century representation of a girl in the form of the Buddhist goddess of wisdom, Prajnaparamita.

“The exhibition of these marvellous sculptures is another example of the close links between our countries,” says Australia’s Ambassador to Cambodia, Alison Burrows. “I am certain that Australians will enjoy seeing such high quality Khmer art in their capital and that it will inspire more Australians to visit Cambodia.”

The museum will also use the art as an opportunity to draw attention to the issue of illicit trade, looting and reproductions.

Director-General of the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Hab Touch, travelled to Canberra for the event.

“The National Gallery of Australia and the National Museum of Cambodia have built a close connection across three decades,” he says. “We look forward to further strengthening the collaboration into the future.”