Krishna and the Plaster Cast. Translating the Cambodian Temple of Angkor Wat in the French Colonial Period
The analysis of hidden power constellations in any translation process between cultures–in this special case between Asia and Europe–is an emerging feature in (trans-)cultural studies. However, with a strong focus on texts and images, techniques of direct material translation–such as plaster casts–are rarely discussed. And even if the cultural-historical value of this form of physical copying in European museum collections was rediscovered in the last decade, the analysis of their relevance in colonial translation politics has yet to be assessed.
This paper focuses on the cultural-political history of French plaster casts. It is particularly interested in those made of the Cambodian temple of Angkor Vat during early French explorative missions, museum displays, and universal/colonial exhibitions (from the 1860s to 1930s). It explores the hypothesis that plaster casts were a powerful ‘translation tool’ to appropriate local, built heritage in the Indochinese colonies for global representation.