The history of Cambodian art stretches back centuries to ancient crafts. Traditional Cambodian arts and crafts include textiles, non-textile weaving, silversmithing, stone carving, lacquerware, ceramics, wat murals, and kite-making. Beginning in the mid-20th century, a tradition of modern art began in Cambodia, though in the later 20th century both traditional and modern arts declined for several reasons, including the killing of artists by the Khmer Rouge. The country has experienced a recent artistic revival due to increased support from governments, NGOs, and foreign tourists.
The history of Cambodian art stretches back centuries to ancient pottery, silk weaving, and stone carving. The height of Khmer art occurred during the Angkor period; much of the era's stone carving and architecture survives to the present. In pre-colonial Cambodia, art and crafts were generally produced either by rural non-specialists for practical use or by skilled artists producing works for the Royal Palace. In modern Cambodia, many artistic traditions entered a period of decline or even ceased to be practiced, but the country has experienced a recent artistic revival as the tourist market has increased and governments and NGOs have contributed to the preservation of Cambodian culture.
Silk weaving in Cambodia has a long history. The practice dates to as early as the first century, and textiles were used in trade during Angkorian times. Even modern textile production evidences these historic antecedents: motifs found on silk today often echo clothing details on ancient stone sculptures.
There are two main types of Cambodian weaving. The ikat technique (Khmer: chong kiet), which produces patterned fabric, is quite complex. To. create patterns, weavers tie and dye portions of weft yarn before weaving begins. Patterns are diverse and vary by region; common motifs include lattice, stars, and spots. The second weaving technique, unique to Cambodia, is called "uneven twill". It yields single or two-color fabrics, which are produced by weaving three threads so that the "color of one thread dominates on one side of the fabric, while the two others determine the colour on the reverse side." Traditionally, Cambodian textiles have employed natural dyes. Red dye comes from lac insect nests, blue dye from indigo, yellow and green dye from Prohut bark, and black dye from ebony bark.
Cambodia's modern silk-weaving centers are Takeo, Battambang, Beanteay Meanchey, Siem Reap and Kampot provinces. Silk-weaving has seen a major revival recently, with production doubling over the past ten years. This has provided employment for many rural women. Cambodian silk is generally sold domestically, where it is used in Sampot (wrap skirts), furnishings, and pidan (pictorial tapestries), but interest in international trade is increasing.
Cotton textiles have also played a significant role in Cambodian culture. Though today Cambodia imports most of its cotton, traditionally woven cotton remains popular. Rural women often weave homemade cotton fabric, which is used in garments and for household purposes. Krama, the traditional check scarves worn almost universally by Cambodians, are made of cotton.
Cambodia's best-known stone carving adorns the temples of Angkor, which are "renowned for the scale, richness and detail of their sculpture". In modern times, however, the art of stone carving became rare, largely because older sculptures survived undamaged for centuries (eliminating the need for replacements) and because of the use of cement molds for modern temple architecture. By the 1970s and 1980s, the craft of stone carving was nearly lost.
During the late 20th century, however, efforts to restore Angkor resulted in a new demand for skilled stone carvers to replace missing or damaged pieces, and a new tradition of stone carving is arising to meet this need. Most modern carving is traditional-style, but some carvers are experimenting with contemporary designs. Interest is also renewing for using stone carving in modern wats. Modern carvings are typically made from Banteay Meanchey sandstone, though stone from Pursat and Kompong Thom is also used.