Friday, November 28, 2008

Saving Angkor: The Restoration of Cambodia's Ancient Temples

Text and Photos by Rony Zakaria

Each day as the sun begins to rise, the magnificent Angkor
Wat forms a beautiful silhouette against the golden sky. This
morning ritual is attended by thousands of tourists, eagerly
waiting for the right moment to take photos of the landscape,
or just to witness the heavenly scene.

Angkor Wat is one of the many temples of the Angkor
Archaeological Park. Built by King Suryavarman II in the first
half of the 12th century, it was designed to represent Mount
Meru, the mythical mountain in Hindu mythology, and to
act as the central structure of the ancient city. In addition
to Angkor Wat, the Angkor Archaeological Park covers over
400 square kilometres and consists of over a thousand sites,
including the renowned Bayon and Ta Prohm temples.

The region of Angkor served as the capital city of the
Khmer Empire from the 9th to 15th century AD, and is
believed by some researchers to have been the largest
pre-industrial city in the world. Studies have shown that
Angkor could have supported a population of up to
one million people.

Yet the Angkor of today is a vastly different scene. During
the civil war of the 1960s, Khmer Rouge soldiers destroyed
temples, plundered its statues and even used bas-reliefs
as shooting targets. While rampant destruction and target
practice was less frequent after the fall of the regime, looting
and thievery still remains a big problem. Many of Angkor’s
magnificent temples have since been reduced to ruins.
Nondescript piles of rubble lie scattered through rice fields,
and many headless statues stand testament to years of war

and pilferage. But despite the region’s rocky past, visitor
numbers approach two million annually. Reports from the
Cambodian Ministry of Tourism also show that up until the
end of July 2008, there were already 1.2 million people visiting
Cambodia, with more than half visiting Angkor.

Such figures reflect the importance of the temples for
Cambodia not only as a national icon, as shown on their flag,
but also as their main tourist draw. The increasing number
of visitors has brought great income for the nation, but not
everyone is excited about this news.

Many preservationists have expressed their concern about
the large number of visitors to the area’s temples. They fear
that tourists will cause further deterioration to the temples,
as many of them were not designed to serve as public spaces;
some temples, in fact, were only accessible to a limited number
of people. As tourist figures grew, the condition of Angkor’s
temples deteriorated even further.

In 1992, Angkor was declared a UNESCO World Heritage
site the same year it was also placed on the List of World
Heritage in Danger. Amendments were also made in the
penal code of the State of Cambodia to introduce sanctions on
the destruction, theft and illicit traffic of cultural property to
enable existent authorities to immediately address the growing
problem. Since then, several restoration projects have begun
on the park’s temples. Many objects from the temples had been
deliberately removed from its original place and transferred to
the Angkor Conservation Office (ACO). Located on the west
bank of the Siem Reap River, the Angkor Conservation Office
(also known as Conservation d’Angkor) was established by
the French in 1908 to conduct archaeological studies of the
Angkor civilisation, and to restore the temples to their former
glory. It has since become a safe haven for sculptures and
items from Angkor’s many temples.

The Angkor Conservation Office is surrounded with
a high concrete wall, and in front, a large, intimidating
steel gate stands shut. Needless to say, the office is offlimits
for public and is certainly not an official tourist spot.
Within the compound, ancient stones, statues and reliefs
rest in neat rows, as if waiting for their turn in a long
restoration process.

According to Professor Thlang Sakhoeon from The Royal
University of Fine Arts, Phnom Penh, over 7,000 items are
stored and kept in the Angkor Conservation Office. Every day,
the professor and a team of archeologists analyse the retrieved
items, identify which site they were taken from, and enter
them into a database. The items then go through a painstaking
cleaning process with chemical cleaners and preservatives
to remove the paint on its surfaces. Many of the recovered
items have multiple layers of paint on them evidence of the
number of times they had changed hands before finding their
way back to the Angkor Conservation Office.

Often, recovered items are broken and the team has to
decide whether or not to put them back together again. To do
this, the team uses blocks, tackles and adhesives to reattach
the broken pieces. On average, a recovered statue goes through
several months of restoration before it is transferred to the
new national museum in Siem Reap.

Since 1993, more than a dozen countries have sent teams
to aid Angkor’s restoration. France, Japan, China, India and
the private United States-based World Monuments Fund are
among those that have taken on the arduous task of restoring
Angkor’s temples. The restoration of Angkor serves as a
powerful symbol of unity in a country still struggling to come
to terms with its violent past.

This is a model of cooperation more than 10 countries
and international organisations coming together in a spirit
of solidarity for the work of preserving cultural heritage,
Cambodian Senior Minister Sok An said.

Angkor’s heritage represents one of the last remaining
sources of information for the understanding of the Angkorian
past. By restoring the temples to their former glory, people
will be able to study them, so as to understand and protect
Angkor’s ancient Khmer identity, and to act as a bridge that
links the country’s past, present and future.

Published in the November 2008 issue of Asian Geographic Magazine

Click to View The Complete Photo Story of Saving Angkor

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Selected Quote

Surabaya, 2007 / Rony Zakaria

"In everything beautiful there is something strange"
- Costantine Manos

Monday, November 24, 2008

Why I Love Snaps

I love to do snapshots, they're not the best photographs, but that's the fun of it, you just snap it, no thinking! Simple and relaxing.

To Jakarta, a place where my anger, hatred, love and my peace mixed together in heart and mind.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Using Your Emotion

Bali, 2008 / Rony Zakaria

A lot of people said being professional is doing what you do best in any kind of mood, either sorrow, happy or being homesick. If you're a professional you have to put aside for a while your 'petty' emotion and give your full attention to your work. In other words, shutting off your emotion, not mixing it with your work. They said it's something you have to do to get things done.

Sometimes I had to be professional, being single minded, focused with the work I had to deliver, blocking everything else including my feelings. But also in many occasion I did the complete opposite, letting my emotion played part in the process of my pictures. And to be honest, most of the time, if not always, it just amazed me, many pictures just appeared in a way I wouldn't have thinked of before. Pictures that I look and I feel connected with them, "my own" pictures.

And although being professional is a good thing and something I have to keep in mind, the latter approach always gave me a total excitement and somekind of a weird uncertainty, which is fun, something that can give you a thrill. And fortunately I never got disappointed with my results.

To describe it more, it's just like you're taking a risk or to gamble but you know that you're going to get something out of it, you won't end up with nothing or lose everything. You just don't know what it is you're getting. I don't concider that mysterious uncertainty a risk, I'm feeling it as a breathtaking and magical process!

Just like Henri said "To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart". It's not just the craft perhaps, it is more.. Maybe you have to feel more.. and more..

What about you? What do you feel?

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Dua Minggu di Bali

Bali. 2008.

Sudah dua minggu saya berada di Bali. Ada sebuah urusan liputan yang membawa saya ke pulau dewata untuk satu bulan penuh. Dua minggu membawa saya ke banyak tempat, bertemu banyak orang dan banyak keunikan.

Namun ada sebuah rasa sama yang selalu dirasakan setiap berada di pulau Dewata. Rasa yang unik, seperti ingin pulang ke rumah namun tidak ingin meninggalkan. Rasa yang sederhana tapi rumit, namun tidak serumit cinta picisan.

Masih dua minggu lagi untuk menggenapkan satu bulan dan rasanya begitu sebentar tapi juga lama. Dan kali pertama saya rindu Jakarta.