Project: Community Museum of Buddhist Art

Protecting cultural heritage and local traditions in Laos

Founded as a research institute in 2006, the Buddhist Archives has a long history of delivering conservation and research projects in the field of Buddhist Heritage in Luang Prabang, Laos. Launching a new community museum will present a unique view of the Buddhist civilisation of Northern Laos through selected objects that have an important significance in monastic life and Lao national history.

60 years of civil war, the “Secret War on Laos” and long-term isolation resulted in a high risk of damage to the cultural heritage of Luang Prabang, an area of historic significance for the people of Laos. The Buddhist Archives was founded to help address these issues, focusing on Buddhist collections, places and traditions inside the UNESCO World Heritage town. Previous activities include the safeguarding, documentation and digitisation of historical photographs, manuscripts and Buddhist art objects in a number of monasteries.

With support from the Foundation, the German Government and the local Buddhist Sangha, this new partnership project will study, preserve and present an important part of the Buddhist heritage of Northern Laos. The museum will play a central role in informing local communities, helping them to maintain their connection to and knowledge about this heritage. It aims to ensure the future preservation and safeguarding of carefully selected art objects and the wider traditions they signify. Additionally, by opening the exhibition to international visitors, the museum will showcase Lao art and local Buddhist traditions to a wider audience.

The museum project will further research and classify art objects from Vat Saen Sukharam and other major monasteries. A selection will be exhibited along with scientific explanations both directed at the local community and visiting travellers. Access to the museum and the involvement of local communities is one of the main aims of the project. A catalogue will be available in both Lao and English.

After the completion of all necessary works, preparation and training, the museum will open to the public. Groups of local students, laypeople and monks will be invited to visit the museum to learn about the history of Buddhism and history of Laos through the art objects. As well as engaging the local community, the exhibition will also target international visitors, bringing valid information on Buddhist art and history to both groups. Special attention will be paid to an under-explored aspect of Buddhist life: The museum exhibition and the catalogue will explore the role of women (lay women and nuns) in Theravada Buddhist monasteries where they are involved in spiritual practise, teaching and temple organisation. The collection of Pha Khamchan holds numerous objects related to laywomen’s activities in Buddhist life.

The museum will be overseen by the Buddhist Sangha of Luang Prabang. It will be organised by the Buddhist Archives, who will manage the curatorial staff and make sure the local community is kept involved in the creation process and ongoing maintenance. In addition, a permanent local curator and safety staff will be trained during the setup phase, providing additional employment opportunities.

Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela, abbot of Vat Saen Sukharam, collected the museum objects over 70 years and constructed the building.
Senior monks meet in Pha Khamchan Virachitta Maha Thela’s former abode at Vat Saen Sukharam, which will be part of the museum.
Monks from Luang Prabang visit the temporary storage of museum objects.