Over the course of history, the artisans and craftsmen of Cambodia have created a style of arts and crafts that is truly unique and exquisitely Khmer. While each artist has his or her own particular style, taking home an item of art from Cambodia is like taking back a part of this long tradition of Khmer culture. With plenty of artists but a limited number of galleries, many of these goods are available for purchase at local markets. For some speciality goods or high-end products, you will need to turn to larger stores or malls around the cities. Cambodia was once famous for its gems and kramas (like scarves) but has now added carvings, other textiles, lacquerware, and paintings to its list of popular arts and crafts for sale.
“Traditional” Cambodian art refers to art from the Khmer period 802–1431 AD when many of the famous Angkor temples were built and inhabited by Hindu, and then Buddhist, scholars and artists. Among the many temples, the most splendid is Angkor Wat, originally Hindu and later Buddhist.
Much modern Cambodian art reflects the style of the carvings and bas-reliefs on the temple walls, from mythological and historical themes to everyday occurrences. Surrealist swirling patterns, both concrete and abstract, are common, from the Khmer period right through to the present day.
Textiles and Silk: Time-Intensive Specialties: Weaving has been an important trade in Cambodia for centuries and textiles were used in trade during the Angkor period. Today, with the help of government initiatives, it is still popular and provides employment for many rural women. This traditional art form employs many layers of string to create cloth.
The ikat technique and uneven twill are the two main types of Cambodian weaving. Cambodia’s ingenious weavers produce silk cloth, rugs, kramas, tapestries, and hats, and these goods are always interesting, colourful, and unique. Kramas are a type of traditional scarf popularized in Cambodia and currently spreading globally. Woven silk is another speciality in Cambodia, and you can find amazing deals on splendid silk pieces.
Paintings and Prints: Rice-paper paintings and prints are another meaningful purchase for travellers who appreciate art. Cambodian artists capture daily life, tradition, and history in their brush-strokes and you can take these all home with you. Cambodia’s recent history has been traumatically tumultuous. Rather than suppressing art, it seems to have provided more subject matter for painters, poets, writers, and craftsmen. Now that the country has moved on from those difficult times, the painters in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap continue to produce magnificent works of art that still capture the mosaic of emotions that surround Cambodian history and culture. Paintings vary in medium but oil seems to be especially popular. Local landscapes and traditional Khmer patterns are common themes, as are scenes from history and Buddhism. Prints are typically created by rubbing charcoal on rice paper, and while not as individualized as paintings, can still be remarkably beautiful when well lit.
Cambodia is also known for its Woven Baskets, Lacquerware and hand-carved statues, all available for sale.