Cambodia Urban Art Festival is gearing up for its third outing this month, bringing with it the return of popular features, as well as a string of new events. Editor Marissa Carruthers catches up with the organisers to find out what’s in store. Photography by Enric Català.

Step into some of the capital’s back alleys and Phnom Penh’s urban art scene can be seen simmering beneath the surface. Once-drab walls transformed into colourful works of art and walls of abandoned buildings given a new creative lease of life.

“Urban art here is definitely growing,” says French street artist Chifumi, who has helped push the scene along with fellow artist Theo Vallier. And it has been given a huge boost by the annual Cambodia Urban Art Festival, which aims to celebrate and showcase the country’s home-grown talent while inviting internationally-renowned artists to share their knowledge and work in Cambodia.

Now in its third year, organisers Chifumi, Vallier and Laetitia Troussel have organised a four-day feast of action that takes in art, performances, live music and exhibitions, all dotted throughout Phnom Penh.

And having put together a top bill of international artists, including Fonki from Canada, ArtLab from Nepal, Mauy from Thailand and Julien Croyal from France, to work alongside local talent, such as Davido, Ket Monnyreak and Kakada Yi, the results promise to be exciting.

“We want to give young Cambodian artists a voice and a platform to show their work, while bringing some really dynamic international artists to Cambodia,” says Chifumi. “The aim is for them to work together and learn.”

To tickle the taste buds, a pre-opening event takes place at The Atelier – Fine Arts on Dec. 2. It features the work of Chris Nedlitz and Heng Darith, a French and Khmer photographer who followed the street artists invited for the festival as they created their masterpieces.

On Dec. 7, a pre-party will take over Samai, with DJ sets, cocktails flowing and a range of festival goodies up for grabs, including limited edition designs of Samai’s bottles by Theo Vallier, Julien Croyal and Ket Monnyreak.

Dec. 8 brings with it the grand opening spectacle at The Mansion FCC. “We really wanted to bring together all types of artistic mediums related to street art for a special event,” says Troussel. The evening takes in live painting by Davido, screen print workshops and music from a string of acts, including 12MÉ feat Lisha, Sang Sok Serey, Deejay Cake and Lina Bong.

Sok Sovann Vibol and Gregory Gosselin will showcase their sculpting skills with an exhibition of metal sculptures. Vibol will also hold hand-metal cutting demonstrations on the night.

Fun for the whole family takes over Street 240 ½ the next day with a street party packed full of activities. All of the artists will be showcasing their skills with live paintings on the walls, the tunes will be pumping from 4pm, and Bong Bong Bong is set up to provide snacks and drinks, with Branderz hosting the photography exhibition from The Atelier.

There will also be demonstrations in capoeira – the martial art that was born on Brazil’s streets – and a screen print booth and flash tattoo stand for anyone wanting to get inked.

The final day of the festival presents its signature tuk tuk tour, which will see a convoy of vehicles stop off at 15 murals freshly painted by the festival’s team of local and international artists for

the festival.

Tickets cost $5 to $8 for the three-hour tour and include a gift bag, with a specially-designed map of the city, indexing each street art spot. “We’ve put a lot of effort into creating this map because we want people to be able to explore the street art themselves,” says Troussel, adding they will also be on sale throughout the festival.

The tuk tuk tour will finish off at the closing pool party, which caps off the festival at DIB Club on Koh Pich. Starting at 5.30pm, the event takes in chilled beats from DJ Toke and DJ Mustajo and live painting by Julien Croyal and Loïc Kessler.

With the French Institute, who have previously sponsored the event, withdrawing their funding this year, this has made pulling off the festival challenging. But the show must go on, with organisers seeking funding from private organisations, as well as charging for the tuk tuk tour.

“This made things really tough for us but we’ve put together a really exciting few days that show many different types of art,” says Chifumi.

For more information, follow Cambodia Urban Art on Facebook.