Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Street artists concerned following White Building mural debacle

Street artists concerned following White Building mural debacle

El Mac’s mural on the White Building was painted over on Wednesday night. VICTORIA Mørck  Madsen
El Mac’s mural on the White Building was painted over on Wednesday night. VICTORIA Mørck Madsen

Street artists concerned following White Building mural debacle

Earlier this month, some of the most respected street artists in the world came to Cambodia and painted a series of murals around Phnom Penh and Kep – including a huge mural on the White Building. City Hall’s decision to paint over the mural on Wednesday evening – due to a problem with paperwork – has co-organiser of the Cambodian Urban Art Festival Theo Vallier concerned the controversy may have ongoing repercussions for the local street art scene. He spoke to Will Jackson yesterday

What do you think about City Hall’s decision to paint over the mural?
I’m still trying to understand what really happened. But from what I saw, the [Igloo Hong] project a few weeks ago, they came to Cambodia with these huge artists and everything but they didn’t get the authorisation to do what they did. So, on one hand, I don’t approve of what City Hall did because it’s art and everything, but on the other hand, they didn’t have the authorisations. I’ve been in Cambodia long enough to understand the rules here, and we are really trying to play by the rules here. My role is to promote street art in Cambodia, and it’s not going to be a good thing for street art in Cambodia to paint over the walls just like this without any authorisation. We’re going to work on the new edition 2016 of the Cambodian Urban Art Festival; we just hope it’s not going to be a problem because of what just happened. But anyway, we will do it by the rules. We will ask permission for everything, send the designs to the governor like we did in 2015.

What are the benefits of public art?
It’s a good thing for the young generation to be inspired to see free art in the street that is accessible, easier to access than a gallery or a museum, especially for poor people in Cambodia who don’t have access to those places.

What about benefits for the city?
Street art is very famous now in all the world. Some cities that have really decided to promote street art have become tourist attractions. It can bring people to the city only for the street art. Just for the people in the city, it’s a great thing to see more art. For my part, art is part of my life, I can’t live without it, so I hope it can be the same for others.

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
White paint covered a nearby alley. V. Mørck Madsen

What are some examples of cities that have cultivated public art?
In all the cities where I’ve done big projects, like in Berlin, even in Brazil, there are a lot of places where street art is very easy. I was in Lisbon last year and it has a lot of huge murals everywhere. When you can go to a high point of view and see all those murals, it’s really something great for the city, I think.

How significant in the street art scene are the guys who did those murals?
They are kind of the biggest. Aryz, El Mac and David Choe … they are huge, huge, huge artists, really. It’s a bit hard that we didn’t hear about the project before and maybe we could have arranged something properly with the government.
A few other street art pieces nearby have also been painted over.
If we could do it, we would love to come and paint all the dirty walls with nice things on it, but we are really afraid the government will mistake graffiti writing [for] street art. I understand this is not what they want, they know what happens in Western cities where they spend a lot of money cleaning off graffiti, so they don’t want this to happen in Cambodia. But we really have to separate what is street art and what is graffiti in their mind.

What are your plans for the Urban Art Festival this year?
It might be in the end of March. We’re still working on it. We just hope we can make it bigger and better than last year. We’re still looking for money for the event and sponsors. [Fellow street artist] Chifumi and I just really want to promote street art. When I arrived eight years ago, the street art scene was nearly zero. It’s growing. It’s better. Artists are coming now. And when I saw the reaction on social media, I’m thinking that now the Cambodian new generation know about street art and maybe they will be more involved in this thing now.

MOST VIEWED

  • Draft law on state of emergency pending finalisation

    Prime Minister Hun Sen will lead a top-level meeting on Tuesdays to review the draft law on imposing a state of emergency. Meantime, he has decided to close all casinos in Cambodia effective April 1. In the press conference after the National Assembly met today, Hun

  • State of emergency on table amid pandemic

    Prime Minister Hun Sen, his deputy prime ministers and legal team will meet on Tuesday to review the draft law on declaring a state of emergency, as Covid-19 cases rose to 107 in the Kingdom on Monday. Speaking at a press conference after a parliament meeting

  • Stranded passengers petition UK for help

    Some 10,521 people have signed an online petition calling on British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and relevant officials to fly nearly 200 passengers out of Cambodia. The petition is targeted at 15,000 people. Most of the passengers are British nationals, who are stranded in Cambodia after airlines cancelled

  • Many in limbo as tension heightens

    As the Kingdom restricts travel and prepares for a state of emergency, some foreigners in Cambodia are scrambling for a way home. Foreign embassies in Phnom Penh are making efforts to get their citizens out, but cancelled flights have become common due to the coronavirus

  • Covid-19 Pandemic: Force majeure and legal consequences

    Is the Covid-19 pandemic considered an event of force majeure? The World Health Organisation declared the novel coronavirus (Covid-19) outbreak a pandemic on March 11. Following this declaration, the Ministry of Health and other ministries have taken various legal and administrative measures to prevent the rapid

  • No word on state of emergency

    The National Assembly (NA) said it will postpone all unnecessary meetings in line with guidance from the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organisation (WHO) amid the Covid-19 pandemic. However, it did not say when or how it will debate the “state of emergency”