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French-Cambodian artist returns to roots

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French-born visual artist Fonki has returned to Cambodia for a new documentary on his artwork and a public exhibition at Institut Français. Photograph: supplied

French-Cambodian artist Fonki has returned to his roots with a locally made documentary set to capture the artist’s work.

Born in France and raised in Montreal, Fonki, 22, has remained connected to his Cambodian roots. Visiting Cambodia for the first time when he was four, his earliest memories reflect the stark difference between life in the country during the United Nations Transnational Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) era and the present day.

“It’s peaceful here [Cambodia] now. When you walk along the street, there is no violence,” he said.

The documentary, operating under the working title Wet Paint, aims to inspire people of all ages and bolster the popularity of street art within a community still largely wedded to classical art forms.

“It is our challenge to make the elderly understand what we [the young generation] are doing,” said Fonki. “Each generation communicates in their own different way. If the documentary helps us find a common cause, it would be a magic touch that inspires all generations.”

The entire production is a self-organised project, with funding received from family, friends, and an arts outfit in Canada.

Despite the hardships of working with limited resources, the young artist maintains: “When you want to do something, there is always a way. There is no excuse. You can build something out of your energy.”

The setting of the documentary will move from Montreal to Cambodia, where Fonki will introduce his art to the public. The art works to be included in the film are inspired from the detailed bas-reliefs of the Angkor temples and a mélange of street art from other countries.

In the previous visit to the kingdom, Fonki contacted the Bophana Centre and the Cambodian Film Commission, receiving technical assistance and information about the current contours of Cambodian society.

“Talking to them, my crew and I got more knowledge of what is happening here,” he said. “It has helped us to understand the sense of being in Cambodia.”

The film will be produced with Khmer, French and English versions.

“Because street art is on the street, and the street is for everyone. There is no discrimination as long as they all find the same inspiration,” he explained.

Wet Paint is expected to be ready for release in May of next year. A fresco painted by Fonki will be unveiled on the façade of the Institut Français building this Thursday evening at 6:30pm.

To contact the reporter on this story: Chanvetey Vann at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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