The National Museum is going through a major overhaul of its exhibition rooms that, if its director Hab Touch has his way, will leave no artifact unshowcased.
Fewer than two years short of the museum’s 90th anniversary, walls are being repainted, sections rearranged by themes and periods, and sculptures repositioned to create viewpoints enhancing them.
Moreover, display cases are being cleaned up, labels redesigned and information panels added in two or three languages: Khmer, English and/or French.
The overhaul is being done so that visitors will better understand and appreciate the artifacts in the context of Cambodia’s historical periods, Hab Touch said.
Programs are being revisited as well, he said. The first conference to be held at the museum in a decade will take place Tuesday afternoon as Cambodian and foreign scholars meet to discuss stone inscriptions—Cambodia’s only written records prior to the 15th century.
The seminar will mark the inauguration of the museum’s new section on pre-Angkorian stone inscriptions, said Bertrand Porte of the Ecole Francaise d’Extreme-Orient, who assists the museum’s stone restoration studio. Funding to set up the section was provided by a French private donor, Beatrix Latham, he said.
Until recently, the pre-Angkorian steles were displayed hroughout the museum, Hab Touch explained.
“We decided to put them here, so that visitors can see them before they enter the pre-Angkorian sculpture section to help them understand the history of Cambodia,” he said.
Space may not permit inscription sections before the Angkorian and post-Angkorian rooms, Hab Touch said. However, all steles of a given period are grouped and will have panels with their text translated next to them, he said.
Texts on steles, often barely visible after being exposed to the elements for centuries, are written in Sanskrit and in ancient forms of Khmer. The EFEO is working with the museum staff to translate the inscriptions and create information panels for the steles, Porte said.
The seminar will be the first event to take place in the room originally fitted out with temperature and security controls for a 2006 exhibition of century-old drawings of Apsara dancers by French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
“This room now has two functions: for meetings or seminars and for temporary exhibitions” such as the exhibition of Ludovic Careme’s film star photos held last March, Hab Touch said.
This room makes events such as Tuesday’s seminar possible in this busy museum, he said.
“The museum is getting smaller and smaller: With this room, we can discuss,” he added.
Organized by the EFEO—a French government institution—and the museum, the seminar starts Tuesday at 2 pm.