October 24, 2023
PHNOM PENH – The Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts has initiated a training course on lacquer artistry for children living in proximity to Svay Andet pagoda in Kandal province. The goal is to preserve Lakhon Khol, a dance drama genre cherished across the Kingdom for generations.
Also known as Khmer Masked Theatre, it was inscribed on the UNESCO List of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Need of Urgent Safeguarding in 2018, officially as Lakhon Khol Wat Svay Andet.
Chea Bunthoeun, the chief monk of Wat Svay Andet in Lvea Em district’s Sarika commune, told The Post on October 22 that a specialised unit from the ministry’s General Department of Cultural Technology conducted a training course on crafting lacquer masks for the young actors of the pagoda’s Lakhon Khol ensemble on October 21.
He noted that this marks the inaugural training by the ministry in crafting lacquer masks for the children of Lakhon Khol performers affiliated with the pagoda. Proficiency in creating these masks enables the young performers to undertake their own lacquer repairs. Additionally, this newfound knowledge plays a pivotal role in boosting economic prospects for the community by facilitating the sale of lacquer masks, thereby augmenting their income.
The chief monk said residents in proximity to Wat Svay Andet hold a profound reverence for lacquer masks, particularly venerating those of the Lakhon Khol masters. Some lovingly display lacquer masks in their homes, while others encourage their children to partake in Lakhon Khol practice. Historically, the community would commission lacquer artists from distant locations when needed. However, with this newfound knowledge, they now stand poised to enhance their self-sufficiency and economic prospects.
“In earlier times, their recourse was to commission masks from external sources. For instance, when they required a white monkey’s mask or 10 giant masks, they would place orders with distant suppliers. As their children gain the skills to craft lacquer masks, it signifies both a source of income and potential profit. They might create and offer these masks to those who have an affinity for Khmer Masked Theatre,” he said.
He said the culture ministry offers a workshop with a duration ranging from three to six months, and the children of Lakhon Khol performers who successfully acquire the necessary skills will be granted certificates. He added that the school accommodated more than 20 children of masked theatre performers, all residing in the vicinity of the pagoda.
According to the ministry, this training is provided free of charge to educate the children of performers from Wat Svay Andet. The goal is to equip them with the skills to create and restore lacquer masks independently, enabling them to generate income.
Siyonn Sophearith, head of the ministry’s General Department of Techniques for Cultural Affairs, thanked the teachers, elders, the Lakhon Khol director, and the chief monk of Wat Svay Andet for ensuring the smooth operation of this training. He encouraged all participants to be attentive learners, acknowledging the wisdom of their elders and continuing the preservation of ancestral heritage.
“We extend our gratitude and appreciation to the instructors from the Department of Visual Arts and Crafts for their devoted commitment of time, energy and enthusiasm. They have journeyed long distances across the river for this valuable endeavour,” he said.