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The First Edition of Murals for Cambodia Festival

PHNOM PENH: Fonki & FT Gallery celebrated the first edition of the Murals for Cambodia festival at the Factory Phnom Penh on the last weekend of February. This festival unveiled 9 new larger-than-life murals painted by local and international artists from 8 different countries.

The EAC News team went to the festival to explore the art and learn more about the event.

Canadian-born Cambodian, Fonki, says he was exposed to many festivals throughout his life, which had a strong impact on his career as a painter, graffiti artist, and muralist. He said he wanted to create the Murals for Cambodia festival as a platform for local and international artists to exchange and share their creativity. He says this festival has been a dream of his for 10 years and counting.

At first, he thought he was could get 5 artists to join this first edition. However, he ended with 10 artists including Kimsan Sou, Ryssa, Tones, Mauy MSV, Nap MSV, YSK Mike, Venks, JB Carraro, Twoone, and Imagine–although Imagine couldn’t make it in the last minute because of the covid situation in her country. These artists span from Cambodia, Holland, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom, France, Japan to Nepal.

In addition to the murals, FT Gallery also has a new exhibition which officially opened during the weekend of the event.

The three concerts that took place every night included artists such as 2MDIE, Sochhata, Isame Siva, Nikki Nikki, Ca$hRules, DJ Marie Thach, and other artists from Klapyahandz and Baramey Production, as well as a few independent artists.

The fairgoers were invited to watch the muralists complete their works during the festival. There was also an open graffiti space where people could create their own graffiti.

Dutch-born Cambodian artist, Ryssa, said that he always wanted to do a mural and was happy to join this festival when Fonki asked. He said, “So I had this drawing made first. Fonki saw it and he liked it very much and wanted it on the wall [although at first, I thought of a different design.] I hope that [the festival] would bring a spotlight on the art scene and bring it up a bit for the Cambodian arts culture. I hope it will encourage the kids to create art and show them that it’s possible to make a living out of it.”

Kimsan Sou, an artist who is an alumnus of the Royal University of Fine Arts and who created his art based on traditional dance and looking into the past, added he was looking forward to learning about the art from other artists. He said, “Usually at the festival, people tend to have fun, but I also want them to have fun and learn about the art from each artist that has to show. Like street arts from international artists are different from local artists. I want to learn and think about it.”

YSK Mike wanted the people to see that local artists’ works are comparable to international artists. His work is a mix of English and Khmer calligraphy with the meaning of his artwork spelling out the name of the festival, ‘Murals for Cambodia’. Taking a closer look, YSK Mike showed the details of how he combined the Khmer letter Kor and the English letter A. He hoped that fairgoers would be inspired by the various art on display.

For JB Carraro, he created the graphic design for Murals for Cambodia. It felt natural to him to create a mixed media design on the wall. He hoped that people would have fun at the festival and have more appreciation for the local graffiti and street art scene.

On the side of the festival performances, Sam from 2MDIE hoped the attendees would enjoy the good music and art and feel the synergy between the two. He also debuted his new song “Better Day” at the festival.

Speaking with some artists from Klapyahandz, Siva said he was happy to support his friend and see a connection between his music and the art showcased at the festival. He added, “I hope people would see what our hip-hop culture is. I hope people would get to see also how it traveled far into Cambodia and mixed with the arts and the culture of Cambodia as well.”

Sochhata excitedly chimed in, “First, this festival is a really open event for people to come and see the artists from Cambodia and outside of Cambodia. It’s an exhibition and collection of good artworks from the artists. Second, I’m very excited to come back to perform live and see the crowd of people. Of course, we have to stay safe.”

People and animals alike enjoyed the open space of art and concert. Srey Meas, a cafe owner, came to the festival to support her friend who is one of the artists. She hopes that the people would give more value to artists in Cambodia so that there will be more development in the arts field. She can see that there is more support and understanding now.

Mony, a program manager at Impact Hub, added that this festival opens up a whole new culture and community in Cambodia. He said, “[This festival] is really fun and really engaging. Seeing a lot of people in the community, a lot of common friends, a place where I feel really warm. I’ve seen some of the murals. They look great, look amazing. Love the artists. One more thing is that coming here to support local artists is something that drives me.”

Fonki & FT Gallery expressed excitement for the future of Murals for Cambodia. After the festival, he is planning to visit a remote school with 25 students in Koh Kong to paint murals and hold workshops. He hopes to create a road map of tourism to find murals in Cambodia, as well as a documentary to showcase the beauty of the country. He said that he is hopeful that the community will take ownership of the murals when his team has left.

“The goal is to centralize, incubate art, partners, brands, art lovers, collectors, and the people who love art and love to party in one place, and then decentralize the cultural attention that is all in the capital. As you know, most of our country is the countryside, so I think the goal is to distribute. I think art is the best tool to create a bridge and break this barrier–social barrier–to show the beauty of Cambodia…We want to amplify tourism in a different way through art, to inspire the community, and be inspired by them, vice versa.”

“We want to create a new narrative. Our generation, this new era, with due respect to everybody who paved the way for our culture and everything that happened in the past, I think our generation, 80% is under 30 years old I think in Cambodia. So art is the best tool/medium. We are the tool of the medium, us artists, and I want the youth to take ownership of their narrative through this type of project and be inspired by it,” he added.

Fonki & FT Gallery created the Murals for Cambodia festival in partnership with the Japan Foundation Asia Center, Jean-Baptiste Carraro, the Factory Phnom Penh, Urban Village Phnom Penh, Dots MTN Cambodia, Eilat Events, B-Side, Klaypyahandz, and Baramey Productions. Presented by Tiger Beer.

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