Friday October 13, 2017
Tags for: The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents: Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar
  • Press Release

The Cleveland Museum of Art Presents: Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar

exterior of the CMA building

Exhibition features a 4.5-ton, intricately carved bas-relief sculpture on loan from the National Museum of Cambodia, shown exclusively in Cleveland

Cleveland, OH (October 13, 2017)Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar features an unprecedented loan from the National Museum of Cambodia consisting of a section of the 800-year-old sculpted enclosure wall of the great royal temple at Banteay Chhmar. Intricately carved, the wall depicts a larger-than-life image of the bodhisattva of compassion in the form of the 10-armed Lokeshvara, “Lord of the World,” surrounded by devotees. In 2015 the Cleveland Museum of Art forged a Cultural Cooperation Agreement with the National Museum of Cambodia, following the transfer of a tenth-century Khmer sculpture of the monkey god Hanuman from Cleveland to Cambodia. The agreement allowed for exceptional works of art to be lent for exhibition at the CMA in order to promote knowledge and appreciation of Cambodia’s cultural heritage. Complementing the 9-foot tall by 12-foot wide sculpture will be works from the CMA’s renowned collection of Cambodian art. The works on view will be contextualized by immersive photographs of the Banteay Chhmar site by Jaroslav Poncar, a photographer and professor of optics at the University of Cologne in Germany, and digital reconstructions by archaeological architect Olivier Cunin. Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar is on view in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery beginning Saturday, October 14, 2017, through January 7, 2018.  

“The opportunity to display this remarkable sculpture is the result of our warm relationship with the Kingdom of Cambodia and the Cultural Cooperation Agreement that we signed with the National Museum of Cambodia,” said William Griswold, director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “We are grateful to the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Kingdom of Cambodia and to the National Museum in Phnom Penh for their generosity and approval of this major loan. We are very enthusiastic about continuing our work together, and enhancing awareness of Cambodia’s art, history and culture in Cleveland and the United States.”   

“The bas-reliefs from the reign of the celebrated King Jayavarman VII (reigned 1181–1218) are among the wonders of Cambodian art, and only two of his great monuments have them: his temples at the capital of Angkor and his ‘second citadel’ at Banteay Chhmar,” said Sonya Rhie Mace, the George P. Bickford curator of Indian and southeast Asian art and interim curator of Islamic art. “This exhibition displays a unique section of the bas-relief from Banteay Chhmar in controlled gallery conditions for the first time, so the beauty and power of the sophisticated carving can be seen in their best light. The underlying message of the sculptural tableau is universal: redemption and salvation of suffering souls.”

Sculpted Cambodian temple walls cannot typically be seen in museums, because they are integral parts of the architectural monument itself. To view them, one must travel to the site. This section with the ten-armed Lokeshvara, however, was removed with heavy equipment and trucks in 1998 for illicit sale in Thailand. It was seized by authorities at the border and then sent to the National Museum of Cambodia in Phnom Penh for safe keeping. It is being lent to this exhibition for the first time, to one venue only: the Cleveland Museum of Art. 

Banteay Chhmar’s location is remote and after the demise of the Khmer Empire in the mid-1400s, the temple escaped occupation and alteration by followers of other religions, and thus stands as an important document of Buddhist art and religion during Cambodia’s Angkorian period. Its inclusion in this exhibition has resulted in new discoveries about its meaning and function, made possible through the generous collaboration of scholars and specialists around the world. 

Highlights in Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar 


Bas-relief of Ten-armed Lokeshvara, about 1216. Northwestern Cambodia, Banteay Chhmar, west wall, reign of Jayavarman VII. Sandstone; 53 blocks, section averaging 275 x 325 x 22 cm. National Museum of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, Ka.2859. © École française d’Extrême-Orient, fonds Cambodge, CAM10921

No mortar was used in the construction of Cambodian temples; the blocks were supported solely by gravity. Blocks of sandstone were moved from quarry sites using elephants and oxen and were dry-laid one on the other, using ropes and wooden gantries, or cranes. Holes visible in the front face of blocks were for inserting wooden pins attached to gantry ropes. They would have been filled with sandstone plugs, and the carvings then made in situ. The bas-reliefs were carved only on the side of the enclosure wall facing out; they may have been painted, but no trace of pigment has been identified. Entire villages of people from all over the empire would move to a temple construction site on a rotating basis to work on building the imperial monuments and to support the needs of the workforce.


Portable icon of Shakyamuni Buddha in the Earth-touching gesture, late 1100s–early 1200s. Cambodia, reign of Jayavarman VII. Bronze; 42 x 18.5 x 3 cm. The Cleveland Museum of Art, Andrew R. and Martha Holden Jennings Fund, 1964.93

Once considered merely a finial for a standard, recent research has revealed this important icon was actually the repository of the sacred presence of a Buddha during transport from one temple to another in a long-distance ceremonial procession through the Khmer empire. At Banteay Chhmar, inscriptions inform us that the presence of a special Buddha was brought there for worship and protection from another royal temple more than two hundred miles away. That Buddha’s sacred presence would have been transported to Banteay Chhmar by means of a portable bronze icon such as this. 


View of central enclosure at Banteay Chhmar, 1999. Jaroslav Poncar (Czech, b. 1945). Photograph used with permission 

Face towers are a distinctive feature of Khmer architecture, found only at three sites, including Banteay Chhmar. Only six face towers are still standing in the central complex of the temple site, but originally there were more than fifty. 


Heritage for Kids program at Banteay Chhmar, 2017. Photograph by E. A. Darith, courtesy Heritage Watch International 

Heritage Watch International and Global Heritage Fund, two not-for-profit and non-government organizations, have been working at Banteay Chhmar since 2010 to encourage local community involvement in the study and conservation of the site. Guide training and community-based tourism programs, including homestays, provide adults with income and livelihoods dependent upon the monument. The innovative Heritage for Kids program run by Heritage Watch has developed engaging resources and educational activities through local schools to ensure the younger generation understands the importance of the site and the need to safeguard their cultural heritage. 

Complementary Programming

Distinguished Lecture in Indian Art

Saturday, November 4, 2 p.m.

Transformation of a Buddhist Savior: Art and Avalokiteshvara

Gartner Auditorium

A class of Buddhist deities called enlightenment beings (bodhisattvas) became very importance in India in the early centuries AD. They are often associated with Mahayana Buddhism, and spread rapidly throughout the Buddhist world. This lecture focuses on the most popular and important bodhisattva named Avalokiteshvara. What explains his prominence that lasted throughout the Buddhist period in India? While he is known above all for his loving kindness to all living things, his role as savior had a hard edge as well, which made him the most powerful deity of all, eclipsing the Buddha, and giving him many characteristics that are more characteristic of the fierce Hindu deity Shiva. Some of the most amazing artistic representations of Avalokiteshvara occur in Cambodia, an important example of which, never seen in an exhibition outside of Cambodia, is on loan to the museum in fall 2017.

Professor Robert L. Brown is professor of Indian and Southeast Asian Art at UCLA, where he has taught since 1986 and from which he also received his PhD in Indian art history in 1981. In 2001, he was appointed curator in the department of South and Southeast Asian Art at LACMA, a position he holds alongside his UCLA professorship. His research extends over broad geographical areas and chronological periods; four recent publications include the books Art from Thailand, Roots of Tantra, the Encyclopedia of India, and a translated book study on the Art of Ancient Cambodia with Natasha Eilenberg. At UCLA, he has trained more than twenty PhD graduate students who now hold positions in major museums and universities throughout the US.

Free, tickets required. Register online at or by calling the ticket center at 216- 421-7350. This lecture is made possible by the Dr. Ranajit K. Datta in Memory of Kiran P. and S. C. Datta Endowment Fund.

Curator Chat: Journey through the Temple Of Banteay Chhmar

Tuesday, December 26, noon

Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Gallery

Curator Sonya Rhie Mace explains the structure and embellishment of this extraordinary monument.

Curator Lecture: Angkor and Beyond: Banteay Chhmar and the Monuments of Jayavarman VII Wednesday December 27, 6 p.m.

Recital Hall

Join curator Sonya Rhie Mace for a lavishly illustrated lecture and gallery visit to explore works in this exhibition, which features an unprecedented loan from the National Museum of Cambodia. 

Curator Chat: Art of Cambodian Buddhism

Tuesday, January 2, noon

Kelvin and Eleanor Smith  Foundation Exhibition Gallery

Join curator Sonya Rhie Mace as she discusses works from the museum’s renowned collection and the remarkable loan of Cambodian art on view in the special exhibition.


Beyond Angkor: Cambodian Sculpture from Banteay Chhmar is organized in cooperation with the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts of the Government of the Kingdom of Cambodia. 

The exhibition is made possible in part by gifts from two anonymous donors. 



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