Book Review of Kbach-A Study of Khmer Art and Design

Kbach: A Study of Khmer Ornament is simply the best book on Khmer art and design ever published. Here’s why…

Review by Kent Davis  and Design

Book Review of Kbach-A Study of Khmer Art and Design
Kbach: A Study of Khmer Ornament

Please forgive my enthusiasm.

Kbach is a labor of love dedicated to, and co-edited by, Ingrid Muan before her untimely and unexpected departure from our world. To see what she helped create here adds to the sadness and realization of loss…but here, in this book, her vision lives on.

And not only here! Her dear friend and partner Ly Darawuth continues to direct the Reyum Foundation that they founded, supporting art and literature in Cambodia.

Kbach will never be for sale in the United States due to shipping costs, complications with distribution and a very limited print run. Let me put it this way…my house burned down on April 17, 2008 I lost nearly 2,000 books about Asia, including many rare antique editions. Kbach was among the first volumes I sought to replace. If you can find a copy snap it up.

Kbach’s introduction begins…

” ‘Kbach’ is the general term, used in the Khmer language, to name the variety of ornaments which decorate objects and architectural surfaces throughout Cambodia. Although ‘kbach’ have been studied by both scholars and artists, we have found that most of these studies primarily collect ornaments into pages of examples without presenting the thinking behind their creation and elaboration.

“In Cambodia today, students trying to learn ‘kbach’ tend to simply copy from these examples, replicating complex ornaments without understanding the system through which they are formed. Thus they generally do not have the ability to create new compositions of ornaments, or to use the existing ornamental language for their own purposes. Struck by this state of affairs, we began our research on ‘kbach’ more than four years ago…”

Book Review of Kbach-A Study of Khmer Art and Design
Kbach – Explanation of Khmer shapes found in nature.

The pen and ink work of Cambodian artists Chan Vitharin and Preap Chanmata in this book embodies the soul of Khmer art. They systematically create their magic right before your eyes, step by step, beginning with simple lines and ending with works that delight the Hindu gods themselves.

Kbach contains lavish illustrations on every page, either fine pen and ink designs or full color photos of Khmer art in situ. The oversized book is 8 3/8 X 10 5/8. It weighs at least 4 lbs, despite the 1.7lb description listed on Amazon. Perhaps it’s 1.7 kilos. It is 530 pages, not 504 as shown. A group of foundations subsidized this book to make it a reality. That, combined with lower printing costs in Cambodia, resulted in a work of art worth hundreds of dollars anywhere else in the world.

Sappho Marchal’s sketches of Angkor Wat devata in Khmer Costumes & Ornaments: After the Devata of Angkor Wat is a beautiful work studying the Khmer women at Angkor Wat. But Kbach is of another magnitude; a true manifestation of the divine artistic vision of Khmer genius. If you can find it in America, treat yourself. Better yet, travel to the Reyum Foundation in Phnom Penh to buy a copy.

Book Review of Kbach-A Study of Khmer Art and Design

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