The annual Cambodia Urban Art Festival is gearing up for another round of creative fun in Siem Reap until January 29, following its conclusion of activities in the capital on Sunday.

Meanwhile, in the capital, the commercial art gallery Sra’Art launched a new exhibit to continue honouring the festival’s celebration of contemporary art.

Aiming to exhibit how contemporary artists remain heavily influenced by the Kingdom’s rich history, culture and tradition, the Urban Art pop-up exhibition will remain open to the public until the culmination of the festival on March 3.

Some pieces in the exhibit include French artist Williann’s incorporation of Khmer symbols and animals and Cambodian artist Bandol’s attempt to revive the ancient spirit of Phnom Penh in a series of architectural graphic design, in honour of the late Cambodian architect Vann Molyvann.

“The exhibition tries to demonstrate how, even in something as modern as urban art, today’s contemporary artists are still influenced and inspired by the richness of the Khmer culture,” says Cecile Eap, the gallery’s founder.

As part of the Festival – the fifth of its kind – Eap regards the exhibition as everything the gallery stands for – supporting local artists, promoting them alongside international artists, offering a platform for expression and creativity and creating a space where the public can experience art.

“Urban art is, by definition, public art. It is made by all for all. Each visitor also contributes to the creativity by experimenting with the art surrounding them – dressing up in a certain way and coming to the live performances,” says Eap.

The interest in urban art in Cambodia started in 2010 and continued until the establishment of the Cambodia Urban Art Festival by the French Institute of Cambodia in 2015. The project arises from the will of French artists Laetitia Troussel and Chifumi to develop street-art and freedom of creation in public space in Cambodia.

Fifteen performers led the opening of the festival at Sra’Art gallery last Tuesday, with displays of digital art, live paintings and vibrant murals. Hean Rangsey

But it was not until 2017 when the festival was reinvented as an independent and public affair, that urban art reached its peak. The art was brought to the Kingdom’s streets.

Initially, at the festival’s inception, there was nothing. Today with the fifth edition, there has never been this many partners, artists and enthusiasts as the festival, says Eap.

“It is now easier to get the attention of companies and associations because public interest has exponentially increased. It’s even easier to find walls and spaces to paint throughout the city,” she observes.

For instance, the festival gained licence to paint the massive walls of the Futures Factory, as well as the wall right in front of the Sra’Art gallery, which are highly visible downtown.

“The authorisation to paint these walls would’ve been very difficult to acquire five years ago,” she says.

The French-Cambodian founder also observes that skills of local artists have increasingly improved and gained recognition in the international stage.

Fifteen performers including seven local artists led the opening of the festival at Sra’Art gallery last Tuesday, with displays of digital art, live paintings and vibrant murals by the Battambang local artist duo Kolab and Chhunly.

It was not until the festival’s reinvention in 2017 as an independent and public affair that urban art in the Kingdom reached its peak. Hean Rangsey

Other artists include local mural artist Kakada Yi, whose work is focused on traditional icons depicted through complex compositions and intense colours to pay homage to Khmer legacies.

“The goal of the festival is to allow Phnom Penh’s residents to touch base with the urban arts and encourage the young artists of today to express themselves and give them space to do so. We also want to boost interest in street art among Cambodians,” says Eap.

Apart from the showcase, a silent auction was also organised by the gallery. Art and wine pairing were among the features enjoyed by guests at the exhibit.

Eap says: “We operated on the concept that art is supposed to move people and evoke emotions, as what also happens when people drink wine.”

During the showcase, the sommelier explained why a specific wine was paired with a certain artwork. “It was a night of creativity and entertainment. By the end of it, everyone was abuzz with their artistic experience,” she says.

The Urban Art exhibition will remain open to the public until March 3. Sra’Art gallery is located at No 7/9E0, Sothearos Boulevard, across the park from the National Museum and the Royal Palace, between Street 178 and Wat Ounaloum.