Tuesday, January 5, 2010

AA to the rescue

This Dec 2000 photo of the reclining Vishnu at Kbal Spean is the original 11th century carving
It was in the dead of night in March 2003 that thieves stole in and hacked off the upper body and head of Vishnu and his wife Lakshmi at Kbal Spean. No easy task as the site of the riverbed and its thousand lingas is a 40 minute hike from the main road. But that didn't stop the robbers and their chainsaw from removing the 11th century carving, which some experts believe may've sold for around $50,000 in Bangkok. I first visited Kbal Spean in late 2000 and the head of Vishnu was in place at that time - see my photo from that visit above. However, after the theft three years later, the ugly scar remained until the artists at Artisans d'Angkor came to the rescue of this beautiful carving and in August 2006, they replaced the missing Vishnu. Today, the reconstituted carving (see photo below) would appear to be an original unless you know its true history. The stone carvers at AA certainly know their stuff, though the face of Lakshmi is still missing. Kbal Spean was first discovered in the last 1960s and then re-opened to the public in 1998 after a long time in the doldrums, mainly due to the fragility of peace until late in the decade and the omnipresent threat of landmines. There are examples at Kbal Spean of other thefts, carvings ruined forever, mainly from the period when the authorities didn't have the manpower, the money or the will to keep watch over its priceless antiquities.
The same carving, photographed a few days ago, with the replacement Vishnu in place, carved by the artists of Artisans d'Angkor
A photo showing the destruction caused by the thieves in March 2003. Photo: Sebastien Berger

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