Self-taught artist Yi Kakada has spent the past six years demonstrating his skills by painting on walls, fences and other public areas, often without getting paid.
Born in Battambang province, he lost both his parents at an early age. Now residing in Phnom Penh, Kakada, 22, says he had a strong desire to be an artist even at a young age.
Kakada mastered his craft with hands-on experience rather than proper training. He spent the past six years travelling to provinces and suburban areas seeking permission to paint murals on walls of buildings and fences.
He continues such projects because he wants to show that the artistic talent in Cambodia is comparable to that found in other countries.
He tells The Post: “I want to show that Cambodia has people who know how to paint quality murals on walls of houses and fences. It’s just not foreigners who have such talent. But what we lack is support and appreciation for such paintings.
“Plus, I have another goal. I want sponsors to support my career. I cannot independently support myself yet, especially because painting supplies are expensive. The murals I paint on public areas are all created with my own money.
“If possible, I would like a working space. But regardless of getting financial support, I will continue with my work. I will not abandon my project as I want people to know that Cambodia has artistic resources just like other countries.”
Growing up in poverty, Kakada was orphaned at the tender age of six. Fortunately, he had seven siblings who took care of him. He started to draw in school while he was 12 and gained recognition and praise from his teachers.
However, because of poverty, he could not continue his studies and dropped out of school. He found a job drawing illustrations for children’s books. He earned a meagre income but was able to help feed himself and his siblings.
“Now I have multiple odd jobs every day, some of which are art-related. Sometimes I draw the covers of fairytale books. Sometimes a bar owner will ask me to paint on their walls. I get paid for painting the walls in shops.
“Sometimes I work in construction. I do everything I can to earn money. When I earn money, I spend a lot of it on paint in order to continue my mural projects,” Kakada says.
“I have demonstrated my art in my hometown in Battambang province, in Kampong Cham province, Kampong Chhnang province, Takeo province and some places in Phnom Penh’s suburban areas.”
On his sad childhood and leaving school, Kakada says: “Because there was not enough money to support my education, I dropped out early and never went back.
“All my drawing skills come from early lessons I learned in school. I continue to teach myself, and occasionally I have a chance to learn from older artists.”
And he believes he was right to pursue an artistic career. “I am pleased with the purpose I have achieved, and I hope for the future. I hope to continue my work and do more.”