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Gallery space displaying works of art by various artists in exhibition Angkor Complex.
Installation photo of Angkor Complex by Neil Kagerer

Angkor Complex: ​Cultural Heritage and Post-Genocide Memory in Cambodia

Guest Curator: Nachiket Chanchani
On view February 3 - July 28, 2024
Taubman I


As crises of public health, economic instability, authoritarian regimes, racial injustice, and climate change spread around the globe, millions are experiencing distress, conflict, uncertainty, and vulnerability. This troubling combination of experiences is nothing new for Cambodians. Between 1975-1979, when the Khmer Rouge ruled Cambodia, about a quarter of the country’s population died of infectious diseases, weapon wounds, and malnutrition.

This exhibition brings together more than 80 works of art spanning a millennium to present how the visual culture of Cambodia and its diaspora has changed in the face of upheavals. Angkor Complex also allows viewers to encounter the still-fresh scars of a genocide and critically appreciate the strategies evolved to nurture resilience in trying times.

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Sun, Apr 7, 2024 2:00pm–3:00pm
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Angkor Complex vinyl sticker on bring yellow wall.
Exhibition Tour – Angkor Complex: Cultural Heritage and Post-Genocide Memory in Cambodia
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Sun, Mar 10, 2024 2:00pm–3:00pm
A women with blond hair sits in a brown room
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Mon, Mar 4, 2024 5:30pm–7:00pm
Organized and presented by the U-M Donia Human Rights Center in connection with the UMMA exhibition Angkor Complex: Cultural Heritage and Post-Genocide Memory in Cambodia.
Angkor Complex Exhibition Tour – With Artist Sopheap Pich and Curator Nachiket Chanchani
University of Michigan Museum of Art
Sun, Feb 4, 2024 2:00pm–3:00pm
Artist Talk with Sopheap Pich: Wading, Ploughing, Waiting
Historic Theater / Michigan Theater
Thu, Feb 1, 2024 5:30pm–7:00pm
Presented by UMMA and the Penny W. Stamps Distinguished Speaker Series

Select Objects on View

Amy Lee Sanford, Full Circle, Unbounded Arc, 2015, clay, glue and string. Photo credit: Yavuz Gallery © Amy Sanford
Sopheap Pich, Seated Buddha - Abhaya Mudra, 2012, Bamboo, rattan, wire, plywood. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art. © Sopheap Pich
Pete Pin, Shorty, 28, shows his Killing Fields tattoo, Philadelphia, PA, 2011, photograph. Courtesy of the artist. © Pete Pin
Maline Yim, Decomposition Color (01), 2017, mixed media on paper. Courtesy of the artist. © Maline Yim
Ouk Chim Vichet, Apsara Warrior, Cambodia born 1981, ca. 2004, Metal, decommissioned AK-47 guns welded together, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Museum purchase made possible by Guy and Nora Barron, 2007/2.79
Colonial Exposition of 1922, Marseille: Palace of Indochina, 1922, Collection of Joel Montague
Suryavarman II, Builder of Angkor Wat, Seated in Majesty, Cambodia , ca. 1900–60, Crayon on paper, University of Michigan Museum of Art, Gift of Professor Walter M. and Nesta R. Spink, 2015/2.132

About Angkor Wat

Built in the city of Angkor in the Mekong Basin in honor of a Hindu deity, Angkor Wat was a state temple of the cosmopolitan Khmer Empire (802–1431). The sacred complex, surrounded by high walls and a vast moat, consisted of clusters of intricately carved stone buildings. When it was built, nearly a million people lived in Angkor, the empire’s capital city. As the Khmer Empire declined and the region became centered around farming, the temple became a Buddhist monastery.

When Cambodia became a French protectorate in the second half of the nineteenth century, Angkor Wat loomed large in the colonial imagination, and France began to reposition Angkor Wat as its own cultural patrimony. Architectural fragments and sculptures from the temple were transferred to French collections, and facsimiles of its buildings were erected in Marseilles and Paris.

After Cambodia gained independence from colonial rule in 1953, successive short-lived regimes have used Angkor Wat as an emblem signifying the prosperity that the Khmer people once enjoyed and to which they should again aspire. Pol Pot (1925–1998), a leader of the Khmer Rouge (the Communist Party of Cambodia), oversaw the most autocratic and oppressive of these regimes from 1975 to 1979. In these dark years, Angkor Wat and other places of historical significance were sometimes the site of armed skirmishes and at other times havens for individuals unsettled by the war.

Today, Cambodians regard Angkor Wat as a national symbol and a site of memory.

Exhibition Guide

Learn more about how the artists in Angkor Complex use art and visual culture to remember and heal from the histories of Cambodia.

Download Guide
Sopheap Pich, Seated Buddha - Abhaya Mudra, 2012, Bamboo, rattan, wire, plywood. Courtesy of the artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art. © Sopheap Pich

Related Blog

UMMA to Open Exhibition Exploring Innovations and Turning Points in Cambodia’s Art Through 80 Historic and Contemporary Works

Dec 20, 2023
Guest curated by Nachiket Chanchani, an associate professor in the Department of the History of Art at the University of Michigan.


Lead support for this exhibition is provided by the U-M Office of the Provost, U-M Office of the President, National Endowment for the Arts, Michigan Arts and Culture Council, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Eleanor Noyes Crumpacker Endowment Fund, U-M Ross School of Business, U-M Department of History of Art, Mark and Julie Phillips, U-M Center for Southeast Asian Studies, US Department of Education Title VI grant, and an anonymous donor. Additional generous support is provided by the U-M Department of Asian Languages and Cultures.