Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hab Touch - the new National Museum Director

In the following interview with Heritage Watch Magazine, TouchStone (Oct-Dec issue), the new Director of the Cambodia National Museum in Phnom Penh, Hab Touch (right), talks about the challenges he faces in his new role.

Q: How long have you been director of the National Museum? And what did you do before this?
A: It’s been only one and half months that I been director of the national Museum. I had been the Deputy director for ten years before this. And before I came to work at the museum I worked at the Ministry of Culture.

Q: What drove you to work in this field?
A: I have always been proud of Khmer culture. So it was a great honor when I got the job at the National Museum. I got into the Royal University of Fine Art in 1980, majored in earth sculpture. In 1986 I went to study ancient building conservation in Poland, and I got my master degree in 1993. I spent a year and half teaching building conservation in Poland before I returned to Cambodia in 1995.

Q: Were you here during Pol Pot?
A: Of course I was here too. I was very little then.

Q: Being the director of the museum that houses the largest collection of Khmer artefacts, what are the responsibilities?
A: The job does not just require me to manage this museum as we also have the responsibility to coordinate with other museums in Cambodia. Plus, since most of the other museums in Cambodia were destroyed or became dysfunctional after the Pol Pot regime, most of the artefacts in Cambodia need protection, which falls under my responsibility. Being the national museum, we must provide visitors with an outlook of the whole country so basically everything we do has to be nationwide.

Q: Of all the archeological sites in Cambodia, which one do you think is the most important after Angkor? Why?
A: Personally, after Angkor, I think Preah Vihear archeological site is the most important. I base my opinion on three reasons: 1. The scale of the temple – 800m from front to back. 2. The location – most sacred Khmer location is on a hill or mountain. 3. And, the cultural landscape of the temple.

Q: Does the museum have any plans to expand the current building since the number of tourists in Cambodia is increasing rapidly? If so, will there be any modification to the old museum that will change its original design?
A: There have been plans to expand the museum but funding and space availability are big issues. We are still working on it. No clear plan yet!

Q: Cambodians have so many archeological sites and rich with history in every part of the country. For this reason, why don’t we have many more museums in the provinces? Are we planning to have them in the future?
A: It’s very true we have many historic sites and we are trying to bring back many of the built museums that are currently closed, as well as building new ones. For instance, newly built museums in Angkor Borei, Banteay Meanchey, takeo, etc. Currently there are three major museums that are operating daily: the National Museum, Angkor Museum and Battambang Museum.

Q: How many artefacts does the museum have? What are the classifications?
A: We are still working to create a list of all the artifacts we have here. The process has been going on for three years and is still not complete. At this point we have 14,000 items marked.

Q: is the number of artefacts being donated to the museum increasing or decreasing? What dies it mean?
A: The numbers are fluctuating from one month or season to another. But compared to the past (maybe 10 years or so) I think the number is decreasing. Why? I don’t really know. There are many reasons. It could be because there are slowly more local museums now, so people bring their findings to these museums directly. Or it could be because artefacts are now very hard to find unlike when the war was just over. They are not lying around waiting to be found anymore. Another very possible reason is because artifacts are now in high demands from artefact traders. They are willing to offer more money to get the goods. That could encourage people to stop giving to the authorities which do not give any money in return, and give to the traders instead.

Q: Currently, is the Cambodian government doing anything to bring back all the Khmer artifacts that are abroad? If a Khmer artifact is in a foreign museum, is this legal?
A: We are definitely wanting to bring our artifacts back. But the process is not as easy as you would think. You have to have the appropriate documents showing that this particular artifact comes from Cambodia. We definitely want to bring our artifacts back. First Cambodia has to establish the bilateral relationship with other countries, then you have to have the appropriate documents showing that this particular artifact is from Cambodia. As you know, after Pol Pot, most documents were destroyed. We have lost all the proofs. That’s why currently we’re working hard to make documents of all the artifacts that we have in Cambodia so that we can prevent further loss.

Q: What qualifications make an object valuable and should be put in a museum?
A: Every object has its unique qualities. An object may not be worth keeping in this museum but in another. There is not just one museum for all kinds of objects. There are museums for ancient artefacts, museum for animals, etc.

Q: How is the museum performing in general? In the next few years, how will the museum’s developments be like?
A: In general, I think the museum is performing well. Even though it’s slow. There have been improvements in many sectors: human resource, artefacts protection, and so on. I see big positive improvements for the future!

Q: If there were one improvement that you would like to make to the current system of the museum, what would it be?
A: There are actually two things that I think need immediate attention: one is the ways the artefacts are being displayed. Two is to expand our advertisement campaign to make our museum known to more tourists and local visitors from the provinces, not just those who live in the city. When they come to the museum, they learn about history: it’s a very good way to bring education to the people.
Reproduced courtesy of Heritage Watch TouchStone Magazine.

1 comment:

Wanna said...

Nice interview! Wish you success in your new position, Mr. Hab Touch!