From high on the north wall of the White Building, a 10 metre-tall green and black portrait of Moeun Thary – a seamstress and resident of the building – looks down on Sothearos Boulevard.
The piece – by Californian painter Miles “El Mac” MacGregor – is one of a number of murals painted by internationally renowned artists in recent weeks as part of a project called Igloo Hong organised and funded by US artist and multimillionaire David Choe.
On a wall the next street over, Taiwanese-American artist James Jean painted a greyscale figure rowing down a river of noodles. In a nearby alley, Choe and Spanish artist Aryz splashed a stunning rainbow mash of geometric shapes and black scribbles. In another, US artist Esao painted a golden-crowned bull, patterns swirling on its hide.
“He just wanted to come out here and paint some murals,” MacGregor, who was the last of the six participating artists to leave Phnom Penh, said this week. “Phnom Penh isn’t known for its mural scene and seemed like a good place to make some art. There are a lot of commercial ‘mural festivals’ happening at the moment, and this was kind of a response to that, doing it independently.”
Post Weekend was unable to contact Choe for comment; however, in a post on his Instagram account, he said the Cambodia trip was the first undertaken as part of the Igloo Hong project, which was about supporting “the best artists in the world to allow them to create their best work for the world, no starving suffering artist bullshit”.
Choe – who famously painted Facebook’s offices in the social media company’s early days in exchange for stocks that were later valued at $200 million – paid for the artists’ transport, food, accommodation and other expenses.
“In a world where it is almost the artists’ birthright to be ripped off, disrespected, undervalued, and treated like shit, the #igloohong project was created because we care about art and nothing like it exists,” Choe said in the post.
MacGregor said he painted Thary to honour local artists, many of whom were killed by the Khmer Rouge.
“I tend to paint regular people, non-celebrities,” he said. “The idea is to represent a person in a very generalised way – so it’s an accurate depiction but it could represent a lot of people.
“It’s important to see representations of themselves – people that look like them – elevated and respected.”
MacGregor – who worked on a crane using a projected image as a guide from 6pm until 2am for about a week to finish the piece – said he was able to achieve his unusual style by cooling his spraycans in ice.
“The paint comes out as double lines, which allows a repeating line effect,” he said.
Thary, who works for the Department of Culture and Fine Arts sewing dresses for traditional dancers, said she liked the mural.
“I am so excited to see myself on the big wall because it means they gave really high value to me,” she said. “This painting also could promote the tradition of embroidery.”
“To me, if there is more painting, it’s a way to promote the White Building and preserve it.”