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Cambodia - Expo Paris 1931

Cambodia at the Exhibition Expo Paris 1931
© Boldo
Architect(s) : Charles et Gabriel Blanche

Since the Palace of the General Government of Indochina is a reproduction of an Angkor temple, i.e. an example of the ancient architecture of Cambodia, it seemed interesting to show for the first time in Europe what the architecture of these countries is today. The local Cambodian pavilion is therefore located to the right of the triumphal causeway that leads to the great ancient temple. In this way, the visitor, in a single glance, embraces eight centuries of Khmer architectural evolution.

Under Western influence, Cambodia has lost many of its traditions and ancient aspects. But it still shows great attachment to its monasteries. This state of affairs dictated the programme of the organisers and led them to divide the Local Pavilion into three distinct parts, each with a different appearance, in order to sustain the visitor's attention. One of the three galleries presents social, tourist and technical Cambodia; the second, religious Cambodia; and the third, contemporary arts.

In the central part of the building, a religious ceremony takes place. There, in the very atmosphere of a sanctuary, its architecture, its furniture, its half-light, its incense fumes, the praying bonzes (about fifty faithful) are gathered and the offerings offered by them to the Buddha who dominates, under his flowery pendants, his pious meetings. The visitor circulates there, finds himself mixed in, and so that his illusion of reality is complete, he will see through the open windows, dioramas which reproduce landscapes of the country just as if this spectator were in Cambodia in the same conditions. He thus comes into contact with people of all ages, costumes, attitudes, fruits, etc., brought together coherently and, at the same time, in the atmosphere that best characterizes the kingdom and differentiates it from the other countries of Indochina.

The other galleries of the Pavilion play an entirely different role. They contain the objects and productions peculiar to Cambodia, presented exclusively for themselves, their forms and their nature, in the greatest simplicity and that clearness of distribution which has become customary in present-day exhibitions. First of all the visitor sees, isolated in the crucial part of the building and presented on a carved bed, copies of the "Prah Khan", the sacred sword, the palladium of the kingdom and of the various headdresses, a sign of Khmer royalty. These objects were made to the exact dimensions and in the same materials as the originals by the royal craftsmen and the staff of the Phnom Penh School of Arts.

With the help of a diorama, the visitor takes part in the water festival, the country's capital ceremony, which takes place in a grandiose setting. The Cambodian family is housed in a life-size straw hut, where a native couple and their children take care of the household. Further on, mannequins give details of local costumes (mandarins, dancers, Khas savages, etc.). Vehicles, reproduced to a rigorous scale and in the most precise detail, stand alongside musical instruments, weapons, fishing gear and tools, mats and fabrics. Finally, paintings show the main types of indigenous people and the silhouettes of the Cambodian farmer and the Cambodian fisherman. A large picturesque map of the country, photographs, plans and various documents complete this information collected by Mr. Poiret, local delegate of Cambodia at the Exhibition.

The artistic gallery, symmetrical to the previous one, is entirely furnished with the works of Cambodian craftsmen grouped into corporations under the control of the protectorate. This organisation is currently unique in our colonies. Vast showcases contain the innumerable objects of art, silver, tortoiseshell and horn, of which Cambodian goldsmiths are so rich. A series of panels carved in precious woods and a piece of furniture giving an example of their use, synthesise the arts of wood. Silk fabrics, already known as "Sampot" and dyed scarves, are displayed on a panel more than 10 metres long and 3 metres high, just as they come out of the indigenous looms, while further on the visitor can see how they can be used in Europe.

Finally, other showcases present bronzes and illuminations on canvas.

Finally, other display cases show bronzes and illuminations on canvas.

In order to demonstrate that the works of art exhibited are common among the people and that they have not been made especially for the Exhibition by selected workshops, an immediate sale and order office will be available to amateurs.

Finally, under a colonnade, goldsmiths, weavers and dyers, founders, illuminators and sculptors perform their meticulous work with traditional tools before the eyes of the public.

The design of the Cambodian Pavilion was drawn up in accordance with indigenous architectural formulas by Groslier, director of Cambodian Arts, who was also entrusted with the restoration of the religious ceremony and the artistic exhibition of the Pavilion.

The three massive wooden doors and the entrance portico were sculpted by the craftsmen of the Phnom Penh School of Arts. Auberlet took great care in the construction of the staff part of the building. In other words, it was impossible to obtain, in a work of this kind, a more intimate Franco-Cambodian collaboration that was more concerned with achieving the desired goal.

©Livre D'Or - Exposition Coloniale Internationale - Paris 1931