SOAS University of London

Sopheap Meas

My research and the information of former looters allowed us to claim back a significant number of illegal trafficked Cambodian cultural artefacts.

Sopheap Meas studied MA History of Arts and Archaeology at SOAS and is now Vice Head of the Antiquities Data Management Office, Ministry of Culture, Cambodia.

Why did you choose SOAS, and why History of Arts/Archaeology?

SOAS is one of the best universities that provides full resources for students to study many subjects. It has qualified tutors, a library that could access every book, a centre for museums, exhibition halls, and libraries. Additionally, it is a community of students from diverse nationalities that is open to sharing and learning from one another.

I chose to study History of Arts/Archaeology because SOAS has a long experience in teaching students the history, history of arts, archaeology and the religion of the south, southeast Asia, Africa and the Middle East. There was direct access to the architectural buildings, archaeological findings, artefacts, and statues of various cultures. Significantly, SOAS has good cooperation with many cultural heritage institutes in the country and internationally which allowed students to facilitate their study and research.

What did you enjoy most about your course?

I enjoyed studying the subjects related to the history and the religion of South and Southeast Asia the most. I was fascinated by the significant flow and connection between the historical events, the religions and the cultures of the people. Especially, the way that the people in ancient times put and express their opinion through a piece of art. I was always looking forward to the seminar class. I was a little bit nervous sometimes because I did not know which was a good point to bring out to the class. However, the discussion and debate allowed me to express my opinion and understanding publicly. Also, it boosted my self-confidence. More importantly, it was a privilege for me to see and obtain the shared knowledge of many students from different nationalities and educational backgrounds.

Can you tell us about the work you do now and how you got there?

I was an archaeologist and a conservator for the Department of Conservation of Monuments in Angkor Park and Preventive Archaeology, APSARA Authority before I attended the course at SOAS. However, I moved to work for the Ministry of Culture and Fine Arts, Cambodia after the course. Currently, I am a vice head of the Antiquities Data Management Office, Department of Antiquities. I am in charge of doing the inventory, documentation, and research of the movable cultural artefacts outside the museums in Cambodia. In addition, I am a member of a group researching and building the data on looted artefacts and the restitution of Khmer cultural heritage. I go to different places in Cambodia, like Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, and Tbong Khmum province. I go from one to another house to interview the local people about the information about cultural artefacts. More important, I am working with former looters from many places to indicate what was the artefact, the number of the artefact, the exact location, and the general context of looted activities. We have recorded every piece of information into the system. Recently, the research and the information of former looters and the witnesses allowed us to claim back a significant number of illegal trafficked Cambodian cultural artefacts. It is the most challenging work ever. We try to puzzle everything that I personality thought impossible in the past. In addition, I feel great emotion about the work that I do: feelings of cruelty, sadness, cheating, and victim at the same time. I see the tears of Cambodian cultural artefacts.

How has your experience at SOAS helped you in your career?

The subjects that I learned at SOAS are directly beneficial for my work. I have a broader knowledge in art and archaeology to work effectively and share with my colleagues. I can understand, be more flexible, and be cautious responding in research and working academically. Importantly, I am always aware of what I am seeing and the reality behind a piece of work that I am doing. I do have more critical thinking toward everything in general. Additionally, I can participate more in the works of culture and archaeology.

What advice would you give to students thinking about studying History of Arts/Archaeology at SOAS?

History of Arts/Archaeology is one of the best masters in SOAS. It will help you to understand more about the history, religion, and culture of the people in the past. It has direct benefits to understanding the people in the present. You will have the worth feeling it when you can understand and discover a piece of information from the past. More importantly, you will never have any doubts about the quality of education and facilities that will be provided. SOAS has a library full of important art history and archaeological publications from around the world. You could also access books online and through a request to the librarian.