Khmer Spirit: Arts & Culture of Cambodia

celebratING the beauty, grace, and talents of the Cambodian people.


The works of art exemplify the cultural richness of Cambodia which was almost completely eliminated by the Khmer Rouge.


This exhibit began as a joint venture between the Cambodian American Heritage Museum and Killing Fields Memorial and Northern Illinois University. Generously funded by the Henry J. Luce Foundation, representatives from both the museum and the university spent approximately three weeks in Cambodia collecting a variety of objects between May and June of 2006. 

Celebrating the Richness of Cambodian Arts

The Khmer Spirit: Arts & Culture of Cambodia exhibit is divided into four major groupings which include paintings, dance/drama, sculpture and music/instruments.  Each area is dedicated to one of these themes and proudly displays the exquisite talents of the artists and rich customs and folklore of Cambodia.

Many of the artifacts mirror the awe inspiring bas reliefs of the ancient temple city of Angkor Wat.

Inscribed on its stone walls are masterful carvings such as the Apsara, the celestial maiden, who represents the ideal beauty of the female figure. Artifacts in the exhibit illustrate the interesting mix of Hindu, Buddhist and indigenous elements that are characteristic of Cambodian culture. 

These many strands of myth and legend have been interwoven to create a unique fabric of belief expressed through dance, drama and the arts. Indeed, these beliefs are as integral to modern Cambodian artistry as they were some 500 - 1,000 years ago. Depicting life's lessons and joys, Cambodian music incorporates iconic instruments such as the drum (sampho), plucked string instrument (takhe), and the bowed fiddle (tro thom) used in weddings, festivals and ceremonies throughout Cambodia. 

Artistic expression was nearly obliterated by the Khmer Rouge (1975-1979) in their quest to create a communist agrarian utopia. The exhibit, Khmer Spirit, provides evidence of a dramatic rebirth of Cambodian arts and culture.