Develop Boeung Kak Art is working together with Phnom Penh Underground to throw the biggest, baddest art party Phnom Penh has ever seen. Anith Adilah Othman writes about what to expect in tomorrow’s artistic and entertaining gathering.
Slightly over a decade ago, the 90-hectare Boeung Kak lake area was silted up to pave way for a private development project. Thousands of families were made to evacuate, while others who decided to stay were forced to be content with constant reminders of the past.
The controversial move did not only hurt the locals but it also drove tourists away from a place once known as Phnom Penh’s “backpacker’s haven”. Today, the status of the land dispute is still up in the air but its remaining residents are not quite ready to give up on their tainted homes.
Among them is Develop Boeung Kak Art (DBK Art) founder Ludivine Labille. For the past five years, the French national strived to add colours into the “dark” neighbourhood by throwing a street art soirée dubbed the St 93 Festival.
“This area is a ‘victimised’ area. I wish this ‘ugly duckling’ would blossom into the beautiful swan that I know it can be. Because of its history, nobody really cares about what is happening here. But I don’t want people to associate this place with only bad things so we add literal colours to it,” she told Khmer Times in a recent interview.
Established in 2014, DBK Art aspires to save every last remaining bit of living activities in the area. The week-long festival gives access to street artists to express themselves on the many ruins and weary walls along St 93, among others.
“The first festival in 2015 was aimed at pushing the local economy and cultural exchange through arts. It went really well. Tourists started coming back and suddenly the guest houses in the area were full again. The second one in 2016 was similarly successful.
“We stopped for two years because we did not have enough funding. But the neighbourhood’s mood has been noticeably down and the paintings were also starting to get old so we decided, this year we must revive the festival,” she said.
This year, DBK Art is working together with Phnom Penh Underground, a collective of DJs, to throw the biggest, baddest art party the city has ever seen. Tomorrow, the entire Boeung Kak will witness 11 hours of art madness with live paintings and music events taking place concurrently.
“There is something for everybody. On Saturday, the events will start at 3pm. We have family-friendly activities like workshops, hula hoops, taekwondo, origami and a mobile playground.
“From 5pm onwards there will be open mic sessions and a live band performance. Phnom Penh Underground will take over from 10pm onwards. That part, however, is not kid-friendly,” she quipped with a laugh.
Ms Labille admitted that initially it took a lot of persuading to convince fellow members of the neighborhood to be on board with the art festival.
“At the beginning, my neighbours didn’t really understand what it was but when they saw colourful paintings and many people came just to take pictures of the paintings, they start to understand. Now, they fully back this festival and we plan to continue making this festival a yearly affair.
“During the two-year hiatus, so many times when I clean my house, they would come up to me to ask if I am throwing another party. Most of those times, I genuinely was just doing chores,” she said, laughingly.
“Personally, I think it is super important that we give free access to arts, especially street arts. Because it makes the brains work. Onlookers would stop, soak the arts in and start asking questions in their mind. It triggers reactions, which I love,” she said.
Ms Labille added that the festival also act as the bridge that connects local and international artists. This year, it features American street artist Eddie Colla, whose works famously graced public spaces in San Francisco Bay Area, Los Angeles, and Miami.
This may be Mr Colla’s first time in the Kingdom but it is obvious that the New York School of Visual Arts alumnus is smitten with the quaintness of this little neighbourhood.
“It is a little bit like a movie set. It is like this little microcosm where everything is happening twenty feet from anything else, you know. Very dense. It’s funny that we are sitting out here but within fifty feet, there are a million things going on,” he said, looking out into the narrow roads.
Mr Colla said Cambodia inspires him to make new arts. He has only been in the city for less than a week but already he has completed two large pieces of murals.
“Ideally, I would like to make a photography project while I am here. Then perhaps go back home and make a body of work out of that. Or maybe come back here and do some murals in the neighbourhood, of people from the neighbourhood,” he said.
The festival, which will feature other artists and top DJs in the likes of DJ Sequence and DJ Sushi Trio, is set to reclaim the streets of Boeung Kak on Saturday. Admission is free before 8pm, and $3 after with one beer.