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Obituaries

INGRID MUAN

Ingrid Muan received her PhD in Art History from Columbia University in 2000, entitled "Citing Angkor: Cambodian Arts in the Age of Restoration, 1918-2000," based on research she conducted in Cambodia and in the US National Archives, among other places from 1997-1999. Basically, once Ingrid moved to Phnom Penh in 1997 she never left, becoming involved not only in research but also teaching at the University of Fine Arts and trying to bring Cambodian arts education into the 20th Century and out of the narrow box in which it had long been confined. She spent countless hours working with and encouraging young Khmer artists to consider new techniques and perspectives, as well as working with older, established artists to document their original accomplishments which were ignored by others because they strayed from what Westerners (and many Khmers) considered "appropriate" or "acceptable" for Khmer artists.

In her dissertation, which quite frankly reads more like a good novel than an important piece of academic research (though it is certainly the latter), she documents the ways that Khmer artists were encouraged to only consider a limited range of styles and perspectives in the colonial-sponsored educational system, as well as the way Angkor itself was created and handed to the Khmers from the outside as a "timeless symbol of Khmer-ness." Her insights prove invaluable in understanding many limitations and problems in the Khmer educational system to this day, and the way these attitudes and perspectives originally imposed from without came to be reproduced from within, not only in art education but across countless academic disciplines.

Rather than simply stop at documenting why things are the way they are, however, Ingrid worked for many years after her dissertation was completed helping Cambodian painters, sculptors, writers, metalworkers and others find their own personal and unique voice and learn the techniques necessary to express themselves in original and vital ways. She opened a gallery, Reyum, close to the University of Fine Arts, which then spawned a publishing company and indeed a whole documentation enterprise. Ingrid and her staff trained a veritable army of young, bright Khmers to go out and research and document not just expressive Khmer arts but also everyday aesthetic expressions of Khmer-ness often
ignored by the mainstream, or forgotten in the turbulent recent history of the country.

This research, and the theme-specific artistic projects that often grew out of it, was expressed in wonderful, fascinating exhibits at Reyum, and permanently documented in the many exhibition catalogs that Reyum published, works of art in their own right, full of not just artwork and photographic documentation but also interviews with elderly Cambodians who had important stories to tell, artist and non-artist alike.

Far from simply an idealistic crusader, Ingrid was an eminently practical and forward-thinking promotor of Khmer arts as well; she proved extremely adept at funding Reyum's many projects with a succession of large grants from important funding bodies like Rockefeller and Toyota. Her latest project before her passing was to bring teams of young Khmer researchers to Thailand to carry out research projects in Thai provinces rich with Khmer history and dominated by Khmer minorities.

Ingrid never wanted to take credit for her work; she wanted that credit to go to Cambodian artists themselves, and she always shied away from publicity like the New York Times article several years back which painted her as some sort of "great white savior" to Cambodian arts. She was furious at that piece, and she would very likely grimace and shake
her finger at me were she to be able to read my words praising her here.

Ingrid died very suddenly in January of this year, in Phnom Penh, due to complications resulting from a mistreated dog bite.

Ingrid was my student, my friend and confidant, and I and everyone else whose life she touched with her passion, compassion and brilliance will mourn her passing and fondly remembering her life and spirit for a long time to come.


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