Cambodia art & textiles: MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum

Whether we like it or not, cultures are far more connected than we sometimes wish to admit. Frequently, it is the women who weave and create textiles that inform us how inter-related we all are.

Too often we live in a world of tribalism where objectify, demonizing or holding tight to old historical wounds stops us from understanding how much we are alike and how much we share. Time spent at MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum can change that.  This museum exhibits the best in Asian textiles from around the Mekong region, including Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and India. There are galleries showing the weaving process in each country and a mix of traditional and contemporary galleries showing different regional costumes past and present.

Every gallery in the museum tells a story about how design, texture, patterns, color, fashion, and images have been inherited or appropriated or re-imagined through time by neighboring cultures – thereby weaving the cultures together in a splendid overstory in tapestry.

I first visited the museum with two jewelry artists, Tracy Brookshaw from ‘In my Name’ and Madeline Green from Ammo Jewelry.  The three of us had such a good time that we chatted, screeched, cheered and wanted to stand on top of a mountain to get people to visit this wonderful museum. We were welcomed with generous time and attention from the wonderful staff and their director, Professor Archana Shastri. Each of them provided us with enormous amounts of information, answered dozens of questions and smiled gleefully with our obvious appreciation of fabric and design. We laughed, giggled, oooh and awed, and were greatly inspired. Please, please go to the museum. You will learn so much about cultural histories and influences along the Mekong- Ganga rivers.

This museum deserves our attention and encouragement. We left with connections and friendships that have already been cemented in delightful FB messages and emails. I have returned for fascinating conversations with Professor Archana Shastri, whose mind is like a museum itself.

The Mekong-Ganga Cooperation (MGC) is an initiative by six countries – India and five ASEAN countries, namely, Cambodia, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam for cooperation in tourism, culture, education, as well as transport and communications. It was launched in 2000 at Vientiane, Lao PDR. Both the Ganga and the Mekong are civilizational rivers, and the MGC initiative aims to facilitate closer contacts among the people inhabiting these two major river basins. The MGC is also indicative of the cultural and commercial linkages among the member countries of the MGC down the centuries.

Aims and Objectives Asian Traditional Textiles Museum
1. To acquire, exhibit and preserve materials, equipment, traditional and contemporary textiles in natural fibers of MGC countries in Cambodia, India, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
2. To organize, develop and maintain galleries for permanent display.
3. To develop and maintain a vegetable dye garden.
4. To organize textiles related workshops, fashion shows and other events from MGC countries.

The museum is divided into four galleries: the Orientation Gallery, the Material and Process Gallery, Traditional Textiles and finally Contemporary Trends. The Material and Process Gallery displays different decoration techniques such as ikat, a kind of tie-dye method of dyeing fibers before the weaving process.

Over a millennium ago, it was textiles that brought Indian traders to Southeast Asia and it was from this starting place that the cultures entwined. History shows that textiles connected people, fuel commerce, and drive art and design.

Museum construction began in 2010 right outside of Angkor Wat. Although the site is outside Angkor Archaeological Park, museum ownership was granted to the Aspara Authority, the management agency responsible for the protection, conservation and tourism development of the park.

I have no way of knowing whether the museum assists in the synergy between the countries based along the Mekong and the Ganga Rivers – but if you spend time at the museum you will feel the life-thread weaving them together.

This I do know – artists and fashion designers in Cambodia need to spend time here. This museum is a resource that promises to inspire, inform and deepen your work.

MGC Asian Traditional Textiles Museum

This gorgeous contemporary textile jewelry is made by the museum staff – Moen Omra, Tr Ing Ing, and Sopheak Pich. It is also for sale.