Cambodia is a land filled with wonders, with so much to see and even more to love. There is nothing quite like its sights and sounds – from the tuk-tuks in a flurry up and down the streets to the hawker stalls selling bhai cha on every corner. Anith Adilah Othman sits with Mulo, a Malaysian self-taught artist who found a breath of fresh air in the Kingdom’s capital. The 32-year-old talks about his four-week stay here, which was more than enough to fuel his creativity.
When he was first chosen as the recipient for an arts grant to do his residency in Cambodia, Mulo reached out to a fellow Malaysian artist Syahrulfiki Razin Salleh, who is the proud owner of Nowhere Arts Studio in Phnom Penh. That was how an online friendship blossomed into four weeks of arts collaboration between the two.
It was Mulo’s first time in Cambodia. Naturally, he was a little nervous. While he has had an illustrious career as an artist back home in Malaysia – painting murals all over his hometown Johor Bahru and having a number of art exhibitions – he could not foresee what Cambodia might have in store for him.
“I didn’t know what to expect, honestly. As soon as I got here, I fell in love with the arts scene. It’s like a melting pot of culture because there are so many expats living in Phnom Penh. I got to experience and saw a lot of cool things like exhibitions by some Japanese, French and local artists,” the introverted artist, who is not too keen on revealing his face, told Good Times2.
“I especially love how the youths in Cambodia are open to new things when it comes to arts. I didn’t think my digital illustration would receive such good feedback. It just inspired me to get more creative.”
By the end of his residency at Nowhere Arts Studio in May, Mulo had come up with new digital illustrations based on the things he saw, people he met and places he visited in Cambodia and they are eye-catching, to say the least.
He created four illustrations called ‘Hello Cambodia’, ‘Toul Tom Poung Market’, ‘Cybervibe’ and ‘Megawhatts’ which encapsulated his very own Cambodian experience. Mulo also paid tribute to DJ Sushi Fiiras, a Phnom Penh-based DJ who is popular among the local ravers and the Cambodian Space Project, a local psychedelic rock band who lost its frontwoman in a traffic accident last year.
“I was so inspired by everything. One of my favourite things to do in Phnom Penh is going to the Russian Market because there is just so much to see. The latest illustration I did was called ‘Megawhatts’ which was inspired by the power cuts we had in May due to the ongoing dry spell.
“My style is remixing the norms. I try to add my own little twist to something that people see on the daily, just to make it more unique. For instance, the tuk-tuk illustration. It’s very normal to see them on Cambodian road but I spiced it up by drawing the passenger on the roof instead of the back seat,” he said.
Mulo might have left the Kingdom but a piece of himself remained here. The cheeky artist had pasted tens of his signature sticker that says ‘What is your name? Who do you serve? Why do you exist?’ on various walls across the city. Refusing to comment further, we can only assume that it was meant to provoke thoughts.
He also left a bigger mark, literally. In a short collaboration with a local artist Monnyreak Ket, he painted two murals in the neighbourhood where Nowhere Arts Studio sits — one, his iconic tuk-tuk illustration and another, a public service announcement on littering called ‘Don’t Throw Trash’ (ហាមចាក់សំរាម).
Speaking further about his works, Mulo, who left his job in the creative industry to become a full-time artist, said his passion for drawing stemmed from his favourite childhood show called Dragon Ball, a Japanese anime television series, and a few other comics.
“I was 5 when I first took an interest in drawing. I had the ambition to become a comic book artist but as I grew older I realised that there are many other types of arts that I could venture into, the kinds that suit me better like digital arts.
“None of my family members were really artsy people so I started learning about digital arts through local artists. My inspiration can come from various mediums like poetry, music, animation, video games and the Internet,” he said.
When asked if he would want to pursue his art career in Cambodia, he said: “Of course. I can’t wait to come back and collaborate with like-minded people. In fact, I am planning to come back to Phnom Penh next year.”
Mulo’s artworks are available on Instagram @tuanmulo, on Tumblr @tuanmulo and also on Facebook. He can also be reached at [email protected]