In Cambodia, silk production was structured as a cottage industry conducted on the side of farming, an activity almost exclusively ran by women in rural areas and mostly destined to domestic consumption until the late 1960s. In 1975 the Khmer Rouge regime put the practice to arrest, displacing populations, and destroying crops including mulberry tree fields, whose leaves could feed native bombyx mori silkworms. Silk textiles were used as a currency traded in exchange for essential goods for survival.
The acquisition and conservation of museum textile artifacts was disrupted during the Khmer Rouge regime, with the National Museum of Cambodia closed until 1979. Founded in 1920 by Georges Groslier during the French protectorate, the museum gathered an important collection of Cambodian antiquities from the pre-Angkor and Angkor periods and about 400 pieces and dance costume elements by the late 1960s. In the aftermath of the dictatorship, only 72 examples of silks were recovered. The scarcity of silks in post-conflict Cambodia has significantly diminished the available knowledge that can be drawn directly from historical artefacts.
Dr. Magali An Berthon is a textile historian focusing on the contemporary history of Southeast Asian dress and textiles. In 2021, she completed her PhD in History of Design at the Royal College of Art of London with a thesis titled ‘Silk and Post-Conflict Cambodia: Embodied Practices and Global and Local Dynamics of Heritage and Knowledge Transference (1991–2018).’ Since January 2022, she is a Marie Curie postdoctoral fellow attached to the Center for Textile Research at the University of Copenhagen. As a fellow, she is pursuing her examination of Cambodian textile practices in the twentieth century, this time exploring further the decades of political unrest and Khmer Rouge dictatorship, relying on the textile collections and archives at the National Museum of Cambodia and Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum.
Dr. Eve Zucker, CKS President and Lecturer in Anthropology, Yale University, USA
- NIAS Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
- Center for Khmer Studies
- Columbia University Weatherhead East Asia Institute
- New York Southeast Asia Network