Wisdom from the Forest: Cambodian Textile Revivals

by - Monday, April 06, 2009

Maiwa Textile Symposium Lecture


Sunday October 18, 2009
at 7pm Vancouver Museum (MacMillan Space Centre Auditorium)

Under the Khmer Rouge almost all of Cambodia’s traditional culture was wiped out. Yet a recovery is under way. The story of that recovery will be presented by Morimoto Kikuo, a Japanese man trained in the art of kimono painting who has founded a traditional weaving village in rural Cambodia.

The village grows everything it needs – all the plants needed for dyeing, the fibres for ikat resist tying, cotton for spinning, mulberry trees as food for silk moths, and the moths for silk. Women work at the looms, throw the shuttle, and rock a sleeping infant in a hammock with a string tied to a finger.

The village is more than an idyllic dream: it may be the model needed to counter Cambodia’s deforestation and regain both textile and farming traditions lost during the tragic civil war.


Morimoto Kikuo was born in Kyoto, Japan, in 1948. In 1975, after a five-year apprenticeship, he started his career in yuzen; the Japanese textile technique of painting and dyeing kimono fabric. In 1980 he made his first visit to Bangkok where he discovered Khmer traditional silk ikat textiles at the National Museum.

In 1983, Morimoto moved to Thailand to serve as a volunteer in refugee camps in the northeast. In the following years he worked encouraging natural dye traditions and in 1990, as a collaborating researcher for The Textile Museum (Washington, DC), he compiled a report entitled “Traditional Dyeing Methods in Northeast Thailand.”

In 1995, Morimoto was asked by UNESCO Cambodia to serve as a consultant for the revival of traditional silk weaving. He remained in Cambodia where he started another project, this time to raise silkworms in Takaor village, Kampot province.

In 1996, Morimoto founded IKTT (the Institute for Khmer Traditional Textiles) in a suburb of Phnom Penh. Four years later the Institute moved to Siem Reap and added a workshop for weaving and dyeing with the goal of enabling elder craftspeople to hand on their skills to younger generations.

In 2002, Morimoto purchased five hectares of land north of Angkor Wat to begin his next project, the establishment of a self-sufficient weaving village. He now lives and works there as he oversees a project named “Wisdom from the Forest.” The village grows locally everything needed (dyes, cotton, silk) to create traditional Camodian Ikat. In 2004, Morimoto received a Rolex Award for Enterprise. Visit IKTT at iktt.esprit-libre.org/en/.


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