The public is invited to drop by the National Center for the Khmer Ceramics Revival in Siem Reap town this week where master ceramicists hailing from some 10 countries are holding workshops on ceramic and pottery techniques.
“Visitors are welcome to jump in and try their hand at it,” the center’s director Serge Rega said Sunday.
The workshops are part of the center’s International Khmer Ceramics Festival, whose program will include, starting today, the firing of its 11-cubic-meter brick kiln—a process that will take 48 hours and involves fueling the fire with a piece of wood every five minutes. On Tuesday, daily workshops will begin, hosted by ceramicists such as Turkish university professor Zeliha Yayla, who will demonstrate coating.
The festival also includes an exhibition of contemporary ceramic works by nine artists, includoing Michael Blazec of the Czech Republic, Janet Mansfield of Australia, Hadrian Mendoza of the Philippines, Jake Allee of the US and Cambodia’s Han Paruth. Selected artworks will also be on display in the lobby of the Victoria Angkor Hotel through Jan 4.
The ceramics festival started Dec 10 with a conference on “Ancient Khmer and Southeast Asian Ceramics,” which was hosted by the Center for Khmer Studies in Siem Reap town in cooperation with Heritage Watch. During the conference, ceramicists, archeologists and art historians discussed the latest archeological pottery finds and the revival of age-old techniques in Cambodia.
As artifacts found have shown, Khmer artists were creating enameled ceramics—whose technique is far more complex than for clay pottery—before and during the Angkorian period, Serge Rega said.
Enameling appears to have disappeared after the Khmer kings moved their capital away from Angkor and during the centuries of political instability that followed.
“Enameled ceramic production seems to have stopped in Cambodia about 500 years ago,” Rega said.
But reviving this lost art is not without difficulty.
The clay commonly found in Siem Reap province tends to produce objects that crack easily, explained Canadian Alan Lacovetsky, a university ceramics teacher whose participation in the festival was funded by the Canada Council for the Arts and Manitoba province Arts Council.
The local clay in Siem Reap must be mixed with another type found in Kompong Chhnang province to produce good results, he said.
In addition, one ingredient needed for the enameling glaze is not available in the country and must be imported from Thailand to produce glazed ceramics of a quality that will sell on the market, Lacovetsky said.
According to French ceramist Laurence Chabard, who is involved with ceramic training in Laos, the Siem Reap festival is the only one in Asia at which ceramicists and potters can discuss techniques and exchange ideas. Most events tend to be exhibitions held in more formal contexts, he said.
Local ceramist Han Paruth said she found the pot techniques of Mendoza from the Philippines fascinating.
Han Paruth, 30, who started making pots about 18 months ago, said she has been inspired by Mendoza, who plays with indigenous as well as abstract forms, to work with Khmer ancient designs, and do her own creations.
The festival, which is in its second year, runs through Dec 29.