Ohhh Cambodia. I miss it everyday. And everyday I work towards going back. I even dream about it. It is not just the beauty and inspiring people that make such a lasting impact, but also the adventures had and memories made. The Director of Year 33, Kathryn Lejeune, and I shared many while in Cambodia, one of which was the hunt for awesome street art. And we found it.
Kathryn and I set out alone one early morning determined to find some hidden gems. It was a treasure hunt. I personally can’t think of anything better. So we hopped on a moto taxi and off we went.
We arrived at our destination and realized that it was a place of great controversy: it was what used to be The Lakeside. Over the past few years the government has filled Boeung Kak Lake with sand to allow for foreign luxury high rise buildings to be built. There was a fishing village surrounding the lake whose means to make a living have been destroyed. Additionally, the ASEAN Summit was in town that day and the military presence was incredibly prevalent, which just heightened the sense of urgency and in some strange way, adventure.
The urban art started slowly, with some tags and symbols, but then turned into huge murals and pieces that were undeniably beautiful and thought provoking. We photographed and shot piece after piece, the excitement always rising. After we had found everything that was slightly hidden, we knew that we had to now really start searching for the gold- after all the best street art is sometimes hard to find.
We began chatting with the locals, telling them about our project and asking for guidance. We met one street artist from New Zealand who pointed out some pieces that belonged to the world’s most famous urban artists, Banksy. I have only seen his work in person on Melrose Avenue in Hollywood and never would have guessed to see him here, but it made perfect sense as his pieces often address matters of controversy.
Our new friend told us of Banksy’s most moving piece that was on the side of a house half buried in sand that said “SO THIS IS PROGRESS?” He added, “That was a couple months ago. It might be totally covered with sand by now… he did this piece knowing only a few would see it before it was destroyed.” That’s all we needed to hear. We kindly asked to go through people’s yards, raising our hands in sampeah to show respect. We crossed a small stream balancing on a fallen tree. I knew I could die happy. Here I was, with Kathryn who had over the past year become a very dear friend, in Cambodia, walking through people’s homes, trying not to disturb their chickens, on a fallen tree, to find amazing street art. Yes.
We passed piece after piece, eventually climbing up the sandy dune to see a home half covered in sand. As we approached, we saw a family still living there, but not Banksy’s message. We wanted to explore the other homes on the sandy stretch, but we would have to cross an energetic demonstration opposing the lake’s fill in. Kathryn, carrying a backpack, and I carrying the tripod on my back which looked dangerously close to a bazooka, debated over pursuing Banksy’s piece any further. If we were to cross the petition site, with our gear, with the incredible military presence, there was a good chance of us getting ourselves into some kind of trouble. So we turned back.
We hailed a moto taxi just as the military was getting into a formation of some kind, complete with plexiglass shields and AK-47s. Going against everything I knew, I covertly snapped a picture, pretending to use my phone as a mirror to put on chapstick. Our taxi driver looked at me and said “Okay, NOW. It’s time to go.” We hopped on and sped off, knowing we had just found our treasure.
Loving it all,
Producer, Year 33