May 16, 2012

LLR (books) - Lao Art Revealed

Title:  Traditional Lao Art / Silapa Ly Lao / ​ສີ​ລະ​ບະ​ລາຍ​ລາວ
By:  Bounlerng Vernvilavong
Publisher/Year:  Vientiane Publishing Co., multiple years and editions

Traditional Lao Art 3Traditional Lao Art 1Traditional Lao Art 2

The title of this post makes it seem like something mysterious is revealed.  Allow me to explain:  For me, what was most useful and important was that these books gave me both the names and images of the art subjects I often see in Laos.  And thus a revealing of sorts because I did not always know the names of the art subjects I was looking at.

Here's an example:  Can you tell me the name of the creature that has the head of an elephant, body of a lion, and the large claws of a bird?  Sounds like a magnificent fantastical creature does it not?  The book tells me its name is kotsasing.  Scan image shown below from the book.

Traditional Lao Art by Bounleung Veunvilavong - sample page, kotasing creature

So Lao art lovers these are your books!  All the names of different deities and people, floral styles, animals and multi-breed creatures, hands and feet positions, etc. that are often found in Lao art or more specifically at temples, sculptures, carvings, architecture and paintings.  There are a lot of images and styles.  Lao art primarily has a religious focus.  Therefore it draws a lot of its inspiration from tradition and a combination of Buddhism and Hinduism.

The original book was created at the request of the Lao government decades ago to document Lao art (1970s or 1980s).  It has gone through at least 3 editions editions (book covers shown above) and a variety of information has been added.

These specific 3 series of books shown above are from the oldest to most recent, left to right.  The first 2 don't have exact published dates written in them and are written entirely in Lao.  However there is a preface letter written by the author dated in the 1970s and then another item written and dated in 1980s.  But the one on the very right states a publishing year of 2000 and has both Lao and English.  That one was written with a bilingual international audience in mind.  There could be further editions created since I last bought these.

Also, the English title of Traditional Lao Patterns is not an entirely correct translation of what is written in Lao.  Silapa ly lao simply means Lao art drawings or patterns, there's no word for tradition in there - minor detail.  All line drawings are in black and white and are quite detailed.   I recommend these books.


  1. Wow I don't know how I found this page, but thank goodness. I just came from Laos and my cousin bought the first edition for her friend for tattooing ideas and since then I've been looking for this book for art inspiration, thank you so much for for the post. Korb Jai lai lai!

    1. You're welcome! Glad to it's useful to you. :)

    2. Thank you for the article. The word Silapa may have been derived from the Sanskrit word Shilpa. Shilpa means "art". It's still used in almost all principal 27 languages in India

    3. Thanks for sharing that tidbit - very fascinating!