Phnom Penh hides its street art treasures well – down back alleys, on storefront grates and even inside the city’s markets. That’s where David Myers and Kimchean Koy come in.
The two 19-year-old architecture students, who are also budding street artists, will begin a new tour this week taking tourists and locals around in tuk-tuks to the city’s street art hotspots, as well as to a few of the galleries and artistic hubs that foster the local community.
Curating a mini tour for The Post last week, Myers – whose street art name is Davido – and Kimchean, who goes by Koy, are soft-spoken but knowledgeable tour guides. They begin at Sa Sa Bassac gallery, a contemporary art space that encourages experimental work, before heading across the street to an alley perfect for introducing some of the basic concepts of graffiti.
“These are examples of what street art is. These are throw ups,” Myers explains, referring to the practice of spraying tags or names. “Many of these are not by artists who live here but by artists who visit.”
Much of the street art around the city is painted by foreigners either living in Phnom Penh or who are travelling. In one case that made headlines last year, artist Miles “El Mac” MacGregor painted a mural on the side of the White Building of a seamstress who lives in the building. After it was whitewashed on orders of City Hall because the permit had not been officially approved, residents and expats alike were outraged and took to social media.
The wall is a stop on the tour as a chance to talk about conflict between the city and artists and because, in spite of the authorities’ efforts, the mural periodically reappears. “The spray paint was high quality but the paint they used to cover it was less so,” Myers explains. “When it rains you can see the outline.”
According to Kimchean, the presence of foreign artists in the Phnom Penh scene is encouraging, rather than crowding out, young Khmer upstarts. He began experimenting two years ago, as did Myers, when he was working in a skateboard shop and met people involved in street art. Since then, the two artists have travelled internationally to show off their work and also participate in the annual Urban Art Festival in Phnom Penh.
“For us personally [having foreign artists is] a good thing because we have all these talented and already grown artists who come back and they showcase their skills and we have something to look at,” Kimchean says.
One example of the skills on display is in Psar Kabko, which was the beneficiary of a series of work as part of the Igloo Hong project, in which renowned street artist David Choe funded the travels of a group of artists on an itinerary around the world.
They visited Phnom Penh at the end of 2015, and turned the city into a canvas. In the maze of the market, it is easy to miss the work including a magnificent hand-drawn tall ship by the artist Esao Andrews without Kimchean and Myers’s guidance.
For the two young artists, the point of the tour is not to make money – the proceeds go towards funding free tours for those who can’t afford them – but to foster an interest in street art. They also plan to host workshops with artists where students can learn the basics.
“We really want the street art to be exposed to everyone: locals, foreigners, expats,” Myers said. “If people can pay it would be great but then there’s obviously people who can’t.”
The Phnom Penh Art Tour begins this Wednesday at 9am and lasts approximately two hours. There is also a tour on Saturday morning. To reserve a place, visit their Facebook page. Tickets cost $7.50.