Exhibit Shows Evolution of Common Tools

No question, it’s an attention-grabbing photo: a mild-faced ox stares into the camera, its nose encased in a woven muzzle.

Does it bite? Could this be the original Mad Cow of disease fame?

In fact, the muzzle is a gadget devised by Cambodian farmers to keep the ox from eating grain intended for humans. It’s one of 50 everyday tools to be featured in a new show that opens this afternoon at 4 at the Reyum Gallery, No 47 St 178, and runs through May.

Ingrid Muan, co-director of the gallery, said the exhibit began as a project for archaeology students at the Royal University of Fine Arts.

The idea, she said, was to examine tools commonly used in the countryside to see how they are made, how they are used and how they are changing as society modernizes.

“We wanted to trace what things go away, and what things stay, and why,” Muan said.

One example is the banana leaf, she said. For generations, it has been used in scores of ways to prepare and wrap food, but it is increasingly being replaced by plastic.

One popular snack, sticky rice wrapped around bananas or pork, used to be wrapped in banana leaves and tied with vines before being boiled for three hours.

As plastic became cheap and available, vendors experimented with wrapping the snacks in plastic, but discovered they didn’t taste as good as those boil­ed in banana leaves. Today they are commonly wrapped in banana leaves but tied with nylon ties, which are easier to find in the city than vines.

The exhibit includes dozens of items, from palm juice containers to hand scarecrows, cow bells to fish floats, shoulder harnesses and rice threshers. Several are explored in great detail, tracing the evolution of technology; a Khmer/English catalog is available for purchase.

The exhibit is free and open to the public from 8 am to 6 pm daily. It is funded by grants from the Japan Foundation, the Kasumisou Foundation, and the Albert Kun­stadter Family Foundation.

 

 

 

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