Cambodia’s foremost traditional ceramics maker, teacher and scholar has died of an aneurysm at age 43, colleagues said this week.
Chhun Pok, professor of ceramics at the Royal University of Fine Arts, was highly regarded for his efforts to revitalize traditional pottery such as animal motifs dating back to the Angkorian era.
He died of a broken blood vessel in the brain Saturday after being hospitalized Friday evening, according to colleagues.
“Now we have lost our greatest [ceramics] professor,” said Te Zuka, director of Japan Sotoshu Relief Committee, which provides ceramics training to artisans in several Cambodian provinces. “No one was better than him.”
Tuy Koeurn, rector of the Royal University of Fine Arts, said that Chhun Pok brought honor and achievement to Cambodia and the university.
Students such as Karu Komi, a Japanese-language teacher at the Royal University of Phnom Penh, also mourned his death.
Chhun Pok, who started teaching at the university in 1980, was instrumental in rebuilding a program that had been destroyed during the Khmer Rouge era. Today, the traditional ceramics especially are treasured as collector items in France.
Chhun Pok persisted through tough times marked by a scarcity of funding. In the 1980s, a broken kiln was rebuilt and several hand wheels were constructed.
As recently as 1990, upon returning from a three-month workshop in Laos, there wasn’t enough money to buy necessary materials to advance the program. An Australian professor helped out in 1991, and some Australian aid followed.
Since then, other groups, including the Japanese committee, have provided support to Cambodian artisans.
Chhun Pok himself received training in Japan, and had been a visiting lecturer since 1995 for the Sotoshu Relief Committee Ceramics School in Battambang province.
In June, Chhun Pok helped organize an exhibition in Phnom Penh celebrating traditional Cambodian pottery.
He said then that the purpose was to mark the rebirth of traditional techniques.
“We want people to see that Khmer ceramics are back,” Chhun Pok said.