The Angkor’s Faces Series of Silk Carvings and Cambodia’s Past and Present

April 23, 2009

It’s already quite a while ago since I started with the Angkor’s Faces and Figures series of silk carvings. Well – I decided to go back to that series and to start a new project. As I already said in the last post about re-working an old silk carving project a happy serendipity took place so I grabbed the chance for a new start.

Somehow I am currently drawn back to Asian influenced art i.e. the figures, faces and landscapes you’ll find in southeast Asia. Maybe it’s the soothing and calming charisma of Buddhist art that has a very positive effect on soul and mind, an environment I have always felt at home with.

Before I introduce the new project to you I will show you the former start of the series and how I came to work on this kind of fiber art i.e. silk sculpture.
The first piece of the Angkor’s faces was this one, an Apsara. Hundreds of them can be found as basreliefs on the walls of the temple districts in Cambodia. The most famous one is Angkor Wat.

Angkor Wat was built in the 9th to 14th century and the Khmer empire was the most powerful empire in that region. They controlled a large part of today’s Vietnam and Thailand. Then the power changed – at some stage the Vietnamese controlled the empire, then Siamese (Thai), then it became a Spanish colony, later in 1863 the French took over – this time ended in 1953 through a military defeat.

The war in Vietnam ended when the Red Khmer took over in 1975 with Pol Pot being one of the cruelest and most brutal terror leaders of the history. He and his butchers murdered more than 2 millions of their own people, chasing the whole population from the cities into the country with the intent to exterminate all intelligence, extinct all scientific education in order to build a complete socialist farmer’s state. The result was no medical care any more and hardly 3000 teachers left in the whole country at the end of the regime.

A sad role in this tragedy played the USA who completely lost their face in this conflict due to the wrong decisions of a few politicians. As usual the American people had to pay the price.

But the biggest price the Cambodians had to pay themselves. Not only was half of their population murdered – they are suffering until today from landmines because the whole country had been mined with millions!! of landmines and no-one had documented where they were.

Cambodia has the one of the highest rates of physical disability of any country in the world. Probably more than 40,000 Cambodians have suffered amputations as a result of mine injuries since 1979, an average of nearly forty victims a week for a period of twenty years.

The Cambodian Mine Action Centre (CMAC) estimates that there may be as many as four to six million mines and unexploded ordinances in Cambodia. In 1998, there were 1,249 known new casualties. While the Khmer Rouge were the worst offenders, the CMAC reports that mines found in Cambodia have been manufactured in the US, China, Vietnam, the former USSR and East Germany, the former Czechoslovakia, India, Chile, South and North Korea, Thailand, Iran, Iraq, South Africa, Bulgaria, the former Yugoslavia, Hungary, and Poland (source: Landmines in Cambodia).

Cambodia is a poor country. 35 % of the population are living below the national poverty level. Agriculture and forestry are the main economic sectors for development and for the abatement of poverty. Statistically (Human Development Index 2007/8 of the UN) the country is on place 131 (from 177). There is no noteworthy industry besides a small textile and leather industry, noteworthy natural resources have not been developed so far although oil and gas resources have been discovered in the golf of Thailand in front of the Cambodian coast. Cambodia’s main asset is still their culture and the income from tourism (source: Auswärtiges Amt).

To honour the history of this country and its tragic fate the following work was created:

Angkor’s Faces I
14″ x 14″, Silk

In the detail you can see that the silk has been sculptured into a basrelief. Finally the silk carving has been painted with the addition of metallic pigments.





4 Responses to “The Angkor’s Faces Series of Silk Carvings and Cambodia’s Past and Present”

  1. Kent Davis Says:

    Hi Petra, What beautiful art!

    When I read your excellent description of Cambodia and Angkor Wat I thought you would be interested in learning some of the temple’s feminine secrets.

    My research focuses on the women of Angkor Wat, just like the woman you portrayed in your silk. For 150 years, scholars have dismissed the importance of the 1,780 female portraits, despite the fact that they dominate the entire temple. “Experts” brush them off as “wives to entertain the king in heaven” or simply as “decorations to cover the bare limestone walls.”

    My research indicates that the woman of Angkor Wat are the DNA of the Khmer civilization at its peak, both figuratively and literally. Their features, accouterments and hierarchy contain an enormous amount of historical information. These women are, in fact, the most extraordinary ancient portrait gallery in the world, similar to the terra cotta army of China that everyone has heard of. Of course, that’s all men. (-:

    To learn more please visit I hope you see some other subjects there to inspire more of your art.


  2. vyala Says:

    Dear Kent,
    thank you very much for visiting my blog. I feel very honoured by your compliments on my art work especially from someone like you who knows so much more about Cambodia than I do. I have so much to learn still.
    I feel a great affinity to the cultures and art of the peoples of southeast Asia since I travelled for the first time to Thailand. Many travels to other countries followed. Especially fascinated by the grace and beauty of classical dance in Asia, the charisma of Asian women, their involvement in tradition and modern life, a difficult balancing act between self-abandonment and self-fulfillment due to the extreme male predominance nearly everywhere in Asia, my inspiration for my art work actually started in southeast Asia while watching the carvers and painters.

    Although I have not visited Cambodia personally yet, it is not possible to not hit Khmer art and its influences somewhere at sacred or official places allover southeast Asia. And of course Cambodia still is a sad celebrity due to its later history – at least in Germany. But what I found to be so exceptionally amazing is, that despite that terrible genocide and the huge economical difficulties, people in Cambodia seem to manage their lives in one way or another with great integrity and without complaining although they would have every reason for it. All the documentations I have seen reflect an admirable composure of the people in all their misery. They did not lose their smile at all and their friendliness and joy that could be representative for all Asian peoples.

    I truly hope that Cambodia will receive more help from the international community in order to preserve their human and cultural heritage, their identity. I will continue to do my very small part by creating more art and talking about theirs.

    Btw – you have a great website/blog and I immediately added your link to my blog. I am sure I will visit your blog very often. And while I am speaking about links – do you happen to know the website of photographer Hatano Naoki, a Japanese website under – who has hundreds of photos in his galleries which document the temple districts of Angkor and other cities in Cambodia? Also one of my first art exhibitions took place in Lowell, MA – where a large Cambodian community exists as well as a school for classical Cambodian dance: Maybe this is interesting for you.

    I look forward to read and learn more from your blog. Anything will be inspirational for my next work.

  3. Hello, Petra!

    Thank you for your comment over at Fiber Focus! I came over here to check your blog out and, wowzers! Of course, I fell in love with your work! I love what you are doing with adding dimension to the silk and then I read about doing that Moroccan table. You must be nuts to actually follow through with it! What patience! It really looks authentically Moroccan and I am sure they have shortcuts to make it go faster….

    I’ve added your blog to my blog roll as I think my readers will also like what you are doing. And, I’d like to invite you a group I started on Ning, also called Fiber Focus. (There is the blog and then the group which grew from the blog…) It’s I really hope you will join as I think you will inspire the others there and you and I have many common interests.

    I’ll be back here, I am sure!

  4. vyala Says:

    Hello Rachel,
    what a lovely comment! Thank you very much for your compliment on my work. I thought your name sounded Moroccan before I read that you are married to a Moroccan husband. How exciting! Now I understand your love for textiles and crafts. I love Moroccan style – all those interiors – oh my. I could go nuts! The more I appreciate your compliment on that little Moroccan table – LOL. What could be nicer?

    Thank you so much for inviting me to your fiber group. At the moment I am terribly engaged – in new projects, in my own 6! blogs – so I don’t think that I can do more than leave the one or comment.
    I have added your link to my blogroll also. Thank you for adding mine.
    Looking forward to talking you again!!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: