The naked Apsara in Cambodia. We offer no conclusive solutions here


Very early 2015 saw the expansion of numerous derisory and accusatory commentary and articles, also a just as severe organisational reaction, pursuing the on line publication and circulation of several “pornographic” photos depicting an “Asian lady” at a temple hard in Cambodia’s Angkor region. The Apsara power and Khmer-language news were quick to pounce on the event and commence a finger-pointing promotion.

However, missing since the facts broke happens to be a life threatening topic about the ways Khmer ladies are symbolized, just how objectives of Khmer women had been conveyed, and whether or not they had been useful and (culturally) warranted, or limiting, showing an understated rules of female phrase and sex.

I provide no definitive solutions here. Instead, i am hoping to ignite a debate not only towards clear gendered features in the Khmer-language media (and of national medias around the world) and its own implications, in addition to a topic about sex representation generally.

The walls associated with the Angkor Wat temple complex, including that from Angkor Thom, the Bayon or Ta Prohm, and others, become adorned with dancing figures (apsaras) and guardians (devatas). Headley’s (2010) Khmer-English Dictionary describes apsara as a ‘celestial nymph, angel, divine women, celestial performer.’ Typically, the apsara were believed to carry out the character of providing entertainment for Cambodian leaders through medium of conventional party. In addition, it isn’t unusual to obtain these figures depicted nude from head-to-waist on wall space and bas-reliefs of the numerous complexes dotted across the Angkor area.

In later part of the January 2015, the Phnom Penh Article reported that a number of files of a partially naked woman of Asian appearance, dressed up to look like the ancient apsara performers, happened to be published on a Chinese photo-sharing webpages under a merchant account named: “WANIMAL”. The images comprise reported for been taken at Banteay Kdei temple, positioned eastward of Angkor Thom. Eventually the images found their own way onto Twitter to get stated on and provided. Exactly what accompanied got an organisational and mass media reaction that, consciously or instinctively, conflated expectations of Khmer girls with Khmer lifestyle additionally the Cambodian country.

The Conflation of womanliness, customs as well as the country

Arranged by Royal Decree in 1995, the Apsara expert (power for any Safety and handling of Angkor plus the area for Siem Reap (APSARA)) operates alongside the Ministry of community and Fine Arts ‘for the safety, the maintenance as well as the enlargement regarding the national cultural heritage’. As a result, once the tale out of cash the Apsara Authority discover by itself into the shooting distinct development reporters and civil people organizations eager to highlight the Authority’s incompetence.

Chau Sun Kerya, a spokesperson in the Apsara Authority, ended up being tasked with managing the fallout from the incident. She is rapid to vocalise that Authority considered the pictures as insulting to Khmer lifestyle, faith and identity, taken while they comprise on a website regarded as sacred. Moreover, and echoing an announcement generated early in the day of the Apsara power, the federal government affiliated Koh Santepheap newsprint stated that the photographs got a “serious effect” throughout the “the honour/prestige of Khmer women and Khmer civilisation” (phiap-tlai-tnoo nei niarey-pheet neung aaryathoa).

Plus, the Apsara Authority decided to go to great lengths to ascertain the “foreignness” and inauthenticity of photographs, emphasising that both the organization accountable for publishing the pictures on line, in addition to the design, are Chinese. Plus, employed alongside UNESCO, the expert has desired to determine in the event the images are also used at Banteay Kdei, arguing the files might have been photo-shopped. Along with having force from the Authority, which as been criticised because of its inadequate policing of this historic website, appearing the false roots for the artwork facilitate decorate the whole event as distinctly “un-Khmer,” products of an alien community at probabilities with Cambodian morals and ethics.