Angkor Wat in Blue, White and Red: Georges Groslier, 'Greater France,' and the 1931 Colonial Exposition in Paris Presentation uri icon



  • In 1931, the temple of Angkor Wat towered over the Parc de Vincennes, a replica built for the Colonial Exposition. It was presented as a patriotic symbol, bathed in blue, white, and red lights with a tricolor flying from its uppermost spire. An article in the popular newsweekly, L'Illustration, claimed that the Angkor pavilion proved that French colonists, “we French of Asia, we Western pacifiers of the Far-East, are the legitimate inheritors of the ancient Khmer civilization.” As odd as it may seem, the Angkor pavilion put forward the message that not only was Cambodia now French, but that France was also an Asian nation. The central figure in the development of this colonial interpretation of Khmer culture was Georges Groslier, founder of the Fine Arts School of Cambodian in Phnom Penh. The apparent divergence between the pavilion’s exterior (celebrating the “primitive” past) and the interior (highlighting the colonial present) was not a divergence at all and represented two symbols of colonial success. Since French commentators thought that contemporary Cambodians had degenerated biologically past the point of understanding Khmer culture, Angkor's restoration was understood as an entirely French achievement, like the construction of the pavilion itself. Thus, an ancient Khmer temple became a resonant symbol of imperial 'Greater France.'

date/time interval

  • October 11, 2012 - October 13, 2012