The skill, patience, and focus needed in this intense technique is significant, and I think of the many dedicated women throughout history and the women who continue to create extraordinary textiles all over the world.
Sinoeun Men had indefatigable energy, like many non-profit executive directors must, and forthcoming to share more than I knew what to ask about handmade textiles in Cambodia.
He has led and grown Artists Association of Cambodia (AAC) since 2003, a membership organization that supports its artisan producers with training, technical assistance, compliance of fair trade principles, and connecting to domestic and international buyers. When I reached out to him, two days were soon planned to meet several artisan producers and a road trip to a visit weavers and dyers.
PIDAN KHMER / Caring for Young Khmer (CYK) is a Japanese NGO that originally started in 1980 to support Cambodian women and children in refugee camps in Thailand, then evolved in 1991 in Cambodia to provide for the healthy development of women and children in impoverished villages.
The weaving program was initiated to provide skills training to women and reintroduce the hol pidan (pictoral ikat) weaving and natural dyeing traditions which the elderly women once knew. Hol pidan had typically been created as ceremonial wall hangings for temples. Harumi Sekiguchi, director of the Pidan Khmer/CYK in Phnom Penh, has been with the organization for nearly two decades. She has seen tremendous growth in the country in that time and has seen the continuing evolution of Cambodia’s weaving traditions.
Our first stop was to Pidan Khmer/CYK's weaving and dyeing workshop in Trapeang Krasang village, an hour and a half south of Phnom Penh. Pidan Khmer is best know for its revitalization and development of Cambodia's traditional hol pidan. Last year they exhibited 11 new silk textiles at the National Museum of Cambodia, its historical significance presented in the scholarly journal, Southeast of Now: Directions in Contemporary and Modern Art in Asia.
Our next stop was to Kamchan Village, near Chisor Mountain Temple in Somraong District, where we met the hol pidan weavers.
My respect for hol pidan grew when I met and saw the work of Pech Ly Kim and Pech Ly Phally, two master artisans who bring the pictorial images to life in golden silk textiles. The skill, patience, and focus needed in this intense technique is significant, and I think of the many dedicated women throughout history and the women who continue to create extraordinary textiles all over the world.
My friend Sushmita Mazumdar once told me, “Knowing the story of one person can change the perception of a whole people, of an entire place, its culture and history, and even a war. Knowing the story of one person tells us more than we might not have ever known.”
It was on this trip that I could see the once dying art of hol pidan revived. It reminded me, once again, why global artisans matter so much. They are the keepers of their cultural heritage, preserving ancient craft traditions, passing their knowledge and talent through generations, and carrying it into the future.