Arts and Culture
Rarely are Pagoda paintings from Cambodia included in discussions of modern art let alone experimentation. Yet, they often depict an overlooked aspect of innovation of form and experimental content, despite being considered a traditional and religious art form. Discussed mainly within the terms of Buddhist art history, Pagoda paintings from the 1950s and 1960s also do not sit comfortably into discourses of painting because of radically different approaches to the training and status of modern paintings from the beaux-arts tradition. Adding to this difference is the role and position of the artist and authorship in regard to Pagoda paintings.
Between the 1940s and 1960s, new examples of pagoda painting emerged that stretched across both categories of Buddhist art history and modern painting. During this period, scenes from daily life and current affairs increasingly appeared. Thus, changing the status of mythical or religious paintings, at times inflecting them with an embedded political stance. This evolution with content and style, and flexing notions of what traditional arts can and should be, much of which informed by external sources, should be considered experimental as well. This paper will discuss aspects of Pagoda paintings in Cambodia with a selection of material from the 1950s and 1960s, focusing on changing aspects, particularly those which start to include contemporary material within “traditional” narrative. Through further examination it is revealed that current art historical categorisations fall short of defining and understanding these paintings, cutting across many definitions.