By Julia M Brennan
It was a privilege to participate in Meridian International Centre’s Diplomacy Forum on the Countries of the Mekong. Set in the gracious and historic Washington DC Meridian House compound, with over 187 guests, it included panel discussions, individual talks, Cambodian and Thai traditional dance and music performances, and a lovely lunch and reception. The diversity of panels raised awareness on the importance of Mainland Southeast Asia and increased opportunities for collaboration among the diplomatic, government, business, policy, and cultural communities.
Our panel highlighted the importance of preserving culture, heritage, and the environment through responsible tourism and education and was hosted by Brian Eyler, senior fellow and director of Stimson’s Southeast Asia Program and author of the new book The Last Days of the Mighty Mekong.
US Ambassador to Thailand (2015-18) Glynn Davies addressed the significance of cultural diplomacy. Ambassador Davies is the organizer of the important exhibition, Great and Good Friends Exhibition, which celebrates Thai and US relations since the 1800s. I served as the chief textile conservator for Great and Good Friends, which is staged at the Queen Sirikit Museum of Textiles in Bangkok. The exhibit forged professional alliances and brought together rarely seen royal and diplomatic gifts from Siam to America: letters between President Lincoln and King Rama IV, rare photos, and fine silks and brocades, to name a few.
My contribution complemented both the diplomatic and ecological discussions focusing on the need for a holistic approach to protecting both nature and culture; working with local stakeholders; engaging in grassroots preservation training; and forging new alliances between business, government, and heritage professionals. Case studies included recent US Ambassador Grants to establish the first textile archive at Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, Cambodia as well as preservation training in collection care and storage in Laos and Thailand.
The unifying thread was the importance of cultural resilience in establishing and maintaining alliances— environmental, social, artistic, political, and economic. It was an honor to be back at Meridian International Center, adding to my long-term connection of preserving their remarkable tapestries, including the 17th-century Mortlake tapestry “Alexander Meets Diogenes.”
The original article and images can be found on the “Caring for Textiles” website and blog here:
Julia M. Brennan has worked in the field of textile conservation since 1985. She is passionately committed to conservation education and the protection of cultural property. Since 2000 she has led textile and preventative conservation workshops in Bhutan, Madagascar, Algeria, Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Taiwan, and Thailand. She is a Fellow of the AIC and active with ICOM, IIC, and the Washington Conservation Guild. Photograph by Meagan Jeffs-Rossouw