Posted by Walter_Davison on 02-19-2006 08:21 AM:

Khmer Weavings

I'd like to put up a few of the Khmer phasins from Ajarn Wismai's collection even though I am not able to say much about them.

The Vietnam conflict and its aftermath certainly destroyed Cambodia as it was, and as it is well known that the Pol Pot "agrarian reform" caused the deaths of millions of people along with the destruction of that society. Everyone knows that Pol Pot was finally defeated, but if you visit Siem Reap and the magnificent Angkor Wat complex, after being amazed at the 13th century ruins, look to the surrounding villages and note that there is no electricity, or running water, or any buildings of substance, and hardly any paved roads, and mark the apparent age of most all the people - hardly anyone is old. They're gone. Pol Pot's legacy is there for anyone to see.

Laos was, of course, also mostly destroyed by warfare. Here's an extended quote from what Douang-Deuane Bounyavong of the Ministry of Culture, Lao P.D.R. had to say in an article titled "Traditional Textiles in Laos, A Living Art from Birth to Death," contained in a 1993 publication, Textiles of Asia: A Common Heritage (Center for the Promotion of Arts and Culture, Chiang Mai University, p. 67):

"During the war, many people were killed and displaced. People were poor and did not have the opportunity to create the masterpieces of these crafts.

Many traditional textiles were damaged; when families left their homes, they would put the prized weaving in jars and bury them in the ground. Some of these textiles have been burned, others were taken out of the country by escaping Lao families, and still others were sold to purchase necessities.

Antique textiles with natural dyes are now being sold to foreigners for high prices; for these reasons, textiles are becoming scarce in Lao P.D.R. This also means that the Tai-Lao weavers are losing the fine examples of weaving that they need to learn from."

How much more must have Cambodia suffered? These fine Khmer weavings come from the pre-war period, so I have the impression that they are important for that reason alone though I have no knowledge of these phasins except from what I can glean from their appearance. Every one of the Khmer weavings in Ajarn Wismai's collection has a very distinctive soft feel to the touch which I think must be the result of the fine weave and thin silk used. They are completely different from any of the phasins I've seen from Thailand. Most have a dark purple cast to them; the ikat designs are finely done, and these designs are radically different from any in Thailand.

Geometric forms are prominent, but there are hardly any bright colors. I conjecture that they seem like the kind of thing that well-to-do older women might wear and the kind of thing one could sell in a neighboring country in order to survive.

Steve, you mentioned that you have a text on Khmer weavings. Can you be of any help here?

Here's a group of four that seem similar to me.

Here are five others that are a little brighter.


Posted by Steve Price on 02-19-2006 08:29 AM:

Hi Walt

I do have some published sources on Khmer textiles, and will try to find time to look for relevant material later today. I also own several Khmer pieces, some long wrappers that were worn as pantaloons, some sewn skirts.

You mention the distinctive feel that old Khmer silks have, and I'll confirm that. They nearly float on your fingers, and are easily distinguished from more modern weavings by touch.

The sort of acidic green on some of those you present is very distinctive to Khmer silks, although rather uncommon even on them.

Thanks for introducing these, and thanks to your friends for allowing us to share them.


Steve Price