Street artist FONKi takes us on a journey through Phnom Penh to share Cambodia's artistic renaissance
'Graffiti is the mirror of the society': FONKi is capturing Cambodia's deep history in his art
Note: this video was filmed pre-pandemic.
Born in France to parents who escaped the Cambodian genocide of the 1970s, artist FONKi grew up in Montreal and developed a successful career as a graffiti artist. But after an emotional visit to Cambodia in 2012, FONKi decided to move to Cambodia's capital, Phnom Penh, and continue his art practice from there. "I just got caught up in the wave of that Khmer renaissance that Cambodia is in right now," says the artist.
FONKi's street art in Phnom Penh embraces the local history and community — "digging into my roots," as he describes it.
"Graffiti exploded all around the world and there's an aesthetic for Europe, for South America, that they're really inspired by their ancient culture," explains FONKi. "So since there was no typical aesthetic [yet] of Cambodia in terms of street art, I needed to create something that really reflects the culture because I think that graffiti is the mirror of the society, city, region, where it's being developed."
FONKi created a unique style of graffiti that incorporates kbach — traditional Cambodian decorative motifs that can be found in Cambodian art and architecture, including ornamenting temples like Angkor Wat.
In this video by filmmaker Thomas Szacka-Marier, visit FONKi's recent exhibition "Khmer Renaissance," which transposes his street art style onto canvases at Rosewood Phnom Penh's Art Gallery. For FONKi, it's important to acknowledge Cambodia's history in the artwork and to make it available to a wide range of audiences. His paintings in the exhibition include a depiction of a mythological Khmer ogre as well as a portrait of his neighbour that was a collaboration with another local artist, Ranon Phal.
"Knowing we had the golden era back in the 60s and then April '75 we had our genocide," he explains. "And now we've been able to heal and we're witnessing a renaissance not only in the art but in the music, in the film industry. The city's really developing in its own way. So there's room now for contemporary art and for us new generation to get back our history and being able to recreate our narrative."