Located in northwestern Cambodia, surrounded by lush tropical forest, the City of Temples of the ancient Khmer Empire, the Angkor Wat makes up the largest religious monument in the world. Originally built as a Hindu temple in the 12th century, the impressive complex is now part of the Angkor Archaeological Park, a 400-square-kilometre UNESCO World Heritage site that contains several important landmarks of the Khmer era. Today, Angkor Wat is still used as a Theravada Buddhist temple, while being a major tourist destination, drawing more than half a million visitors annually. Whilst this may signify good news for the privately-owned company which runs the site as a tourist attraction, others view the swarms of tourists differently; and believe that they are desecrating the monument and affecting its spiritual experience as they flit from monument to monument snapping photos on their smartphones.
This clash between modern day tourism, the secular and the sacred is the theme of a recent short film by Antal Gabelics, a Hungarian photographer who lives next to the Angkor ruins in the town of Siem Reap. Titled ‘Angkor Mandala Sequence’, the film consists of kaleidoscopic moving images of Angkor Wat, inspired by the forms of Buddhist mandalas. The frenetic activity of the tourists is juxtaposed with the imposing, serene figures of the stone buildings, as if wanting and attempting to portray the ephemeral and short life of mortals against the eternal being of the gods. The film was presented as a video installation during the Our City Festival, a national arts and architecture festival which took place in Cambodia in early 2014.