Originally intended to change the local perspective of street art from a form of vandalism to one of beauty, the Cambodian Urban Art Festival is especially relevant this year since city hall’s controversial move to paint over a mural at the white building in December.
The whitewashing of a portrait of seamstress Moeun Thary by American artist Miles MacGregor, also known as “El Mac,” spurred a debate about the boundaries of public art. Since then, much of Cambodia’s street art has been erased from the city’s walls.
French artist Théo Vallier, who is leading the program with Chifumi Tättowiermeister, explained that unlike last year the murals for the festival will have to be painted on private rather than public walls because of the government’s new stance on street art.
The two day event will include workshops and a tuk tuk tour of all the murals painted by participating artists. Among the international crew, four Cambodian artists will also be highlighted. The Weekly recently sat down with the four local artists to discuss how they became involved with street art. For a full schedule of events, see our listings on Page 9.
Daniel ‘Strange Rabbit’ Ou
At only 20 years old, this Cambodian artist already owns a premium art supply store while continuing to study calligraphy. He was inspired last year by the international graffiti artist “Retna” to try to paint a wall for a friend’s birthday party.
Ou grew up learning photography and film, influenced by the fame of his father, comedian Ou Ponnarath. Using those creative skills, he did freelance commissions and worked as an extra hand with a wedding photography agency so he could save enough money to open a shop for artists, which he called Burners.
Since then, he has added depth to his work by studying the works of old Khmer artisans of calligraphy who were wiped out during the Khmer Rouge. “They used to do sign paintings. Those guys were really good at doing letters – neat and clean,” he said.
Although he moved to Cambodia from America at 11, he only writes in English. He never mastered writing Chinese or Khmer, but instead fell in love with the art of language – embracing the world of fountain pens, chisel tips and paint brushes.
Embedded into his art are proverbs – a personal reminder to himself about how desires for the material world can his worst enemy. He knows that his work may be painted over one day, but has learned to accept the life he chose.
“It’s a street artist life, you got to stay up,” he says.
Going by only Koy, this 18-year-old from Takeo participated in the last festival. Currently in his senior year of Logos High School, he hopes to study abroad in America next year for university.
Clad in an old shirt and white tennis shoes caked with splattered paint, Koy was busy finishing a mural at The Mansion with his Logos classmate and friend, Davido. Koy says his latest work – painted in bright blue and red, is meant to inspire the imagination of its viewers and showcase the free form of art. He says that many locals are confused about his abstract artwork, a change from the traditional realistic art that the older generation appreciates.
Koy remembers when an older man approached them while they were painting a collaborative piece with other artists. A construction painter himself, the older man understood what the boys were trying to paint and tried to advise them on how to make the art more realistic.
Koy knows it will take more time for people to learn more about street art, but for now he wants to have fun. “It doesn’t always have to be serious,” he says.
Orpov ‘Mike’ Sovivorth
Striving to make a name for himself in the art world, Orpov “Mike” Sovivorth has been studying decor at the famous Royal University of Fine Arts (RUFA) for the past three years.
Introduced to the world of street art through a friend in his first year at RUFA, he only started painting eight months ago. Known for creating different ways of writing Khmer and English words in a calligraphic style, he collaborates on commissioned pieces with Strange Rabbit.
To his dismay, many locals who see his art often scold him and his partner for painting on people’s walls. “Even if we drew nicely and cleanly, people would say we were messing up the walls. It makes it difficult,” he says.
David ‘Davido’ Myers
Since debuting at last year’s festival, 18-year-old Davido is still trying to balance school with his painting life.
Inspired by Picasso and Cubism, he loves working with animals from a geometric perspective. “Everything here is organic,” he said, adjusting his black rim glasses. “So when I look at it, I try to create [a piece] with triangles or straight edge shapes.”
“I want to open the eyes of the people to different works of art,” he says, adding that the majority of Cambodians have never set foot in a gallery. “Street art can be free form and can be for anybody. Art doesn’t have to be in the gallery or private places: if it’s in the public then it’s everywhere.”