As darkness spreads over a temple nestled in the jungle, two looters are removing an apsara carving from a column with a pick and a hammer.
A deer lures a villager to the spot so that he can stop them. A fight ensues that leaves the villager bleeding on the temple’s stones.
This drama takes place in “The Soul of the Stones,” a picture book produced by Action IEC in Phnom Penh. It will be used by the Apsara Authority to fight looting at Angkor Archaeological Park, said Cedric Jancloes, an adviser to Action.
As the story continues through illustrations filled with shadows and mystery, the deer and a dog help the villager and his neighbor recover the sculpture and bring it to the Apsara office.
The artwork, done in shades of green, started as a personal project for Rin Houeth.
“It was in 1999 that I first went to Angkor to make drawings,” said the 27-year-old artist from Battambang who works at Action.
Over the years, he returned three or four times to the temple to sketch. “I heard many tales of looting and of villagers being asked by big thieves to help them.”
Sometimes, these offers were irresistible for the poor villagers who live in the archaeological park, Rin Houeth said.
So he tried to convey in his drawing how important Angkor is for Cambodia, but without telling villagers what to do.
“I want people to discover by themselves—it is for them to say what is wrong and what is right,” he said.
When Action saw his sketches, the NGO decided to turn them into a book. The National Center for Development Cooperation, an umbrella organization of Belgian NGOs based in Brussels, provided seed money for the project, and Pounloeu Pich Printing House printed 450 copies of the album below cost, Jancloes said. Apsara agreed to handle distribution, using the book as a way to involve villagers in the preservation of the temples, Jancloes said.
The next book is already in the works, according to UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization officials.