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Ben [Sunshine]
Level 5: 1076 points
Last Logged In: June 6th, 2017
TEAM: BKZerØ TEAM: UCZero TEAM: Verbosely Loquacious Overelaberators BART Psychogeographical Association Rank 3: Cartographer EquivalenZ Rank 1: User Society For Nihilistic Intent And Disruptive Efforts Rank 2: Trickster

25 + 40 points

Documentary Defiance by Ben [Sunshine]

August 14th, 2009 12:15 AM

INSTRUCTIONS: Document something you are prohibited from documenting.

The Gallery of Looted Statues

The Khmer people of what is now Cambodia spent several hundred years constructing massive stone temples, covered and filled with exquisitely carved statues of their various deities, heroes, and Kings. Everyone else spent the next several hundred years looting everything they could from these temples.

Over the last few decades, the Cambodian government has made some feeble attempts to recover the statues from throughout the world. Unfortunately, the government is extremely corrupt, and rather than, say, getting returned to the temple, the statues are put in a guarded compound outside Siem Reap. You can visit the compound, and see some of the statues, for an entrance fee of five dollars. This doesn't seem like much, until you consider that an average meal in Cambodia costs $3 at a restaurant, and most Cambodians can't even afford that. It is a desperately poor country, and the government denies most people even their own cultural heritage.

In Cambodia, we had an absolutely amazing guide, Mr. Thy (pronounced T. So yes, he was Mr. T.). He took us to the compound, and showed us around, telling us the various myths and legends pertaining to each statue.

Unfortunately, we also had a Cambodian government official with us the whole time... to make sure we didn't take any pictures inside. Because if anyone took pictures, they could get them out to the people of Siem Reap, thus meaning they wouldn't have to pay to get in, thus depriving the government of more money.

It goes without saying that I do not hold to this.

So of course, I proceeded to take pictures the whole tour of the gallery, behind his back--at one point literally. He definitely suspected I was up to SOMETHING, as I was lagging behind the main group, but I don't think he ever actually saw me taking pictures.

If I could get these pictures out to the general Cambodian populace, I would. They're not particularly high quality, but... it's the principle of the thing.

Here's to documentarily defying corrupt governments.


+ larger

The sign at the entrance
The government official who kept watch on us. Not a friendly fellow.

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4 comment(s)

Missed the Point
posted by Harbinger on August 14th, 2009 1:08 AM

The point of the picture ban for that gallery has nothing to do with Cambodian heritage. It's to deter the international antiquities market (which has already looted Siem Reap substantially) from getting what's left.

The locals get in just fine. The problem is when they hack the statues and sell them to jerks to smuggle into Europe and the States, who clean up the paperwork and then donate them to museums and take a big old tax break.

How do you think most Cambodian art got to the west?

Dumb thing to do. The government is trying to preserve the cultural heritage of the country. They don't want pictures posted on the Internet for a reason. Orders will be placed. Already happened once.

(no subject)
posted by Ben [Sunshine] on August 14th, 2009 1:12 AM

I'm well aware of the international antiquities market and its constant habit of stealing Cambodian art. And indeed, most of the art that goes out that way doesn't even wind up in museums, it gets auctioned into public collections, and is pretty much never seen again.

What I said about the government and the locals is what Mr. Thy told us, and seems fairly reasonable and logical to me. It's also far from contradictory with what you said. The government may be using cultural protection as an excuse, and it's certainly a viable one, but they're getting more profit than they ought to out of it.


(no subject)
posted by Harbinger on August 14th, 2009 5:15 AM

I think you mean auctioned into "private collections". Public collections are museums.

Doesn't much matter, either way it's never seen again by the Cambodians.

The Angkor Wat guides in Siem Reap (is he a car guide or a motobike guy?) tell all kinds of whoppers. Cultural protection isn't an excuse, it's a fact. If they put the statues "back in the temples", they'd be looted again.

Cambodia has been to hell and back in lots of ways, the most important of them being the genocidal murder of 25% of the population, but in a more minor way, it is one of the world's biggest victims of cultural theft. The government hasn't been weak, it has been admirable to get back even a tiny percentage of what was stolen. It's very hard and Western governments have been very far from cooperative.

Mr Thy is grumbling because the tourists grumble about the $5 and that's bad for his business as a tour guide. I won't even comment on how people happily pay to go to a museum to see the stolen version, but complain and call it greedy when they are charged in situ.

Sorry, bur defying the perfectly reasonable request not to take pictures and publicly distribute them is not something I find appealing at all. Bad tourism.

Context +4
posted by JTony Loves Brains on August 19th, 2009 11:23 PM

SF0 is not about tourism. It is about participation, and sometimes in a negative way. The pictures are not in the context of tourist snapshots, but are the completion of a task that asks you to do the forbidden. Yes, it was forbidden for a reason, and a good one, but the task calls for the broken rule. Complain if you must, but do so in context.