Reclaiming Traditional Cambodian Imagery: The Rise of Young Designers and Artists

Posted on July 11, 2023

In today’s modern Cambodia, a vibrant movement is underway as young designers and artists strive to reclaim fading Khmer cultural traditions and art forms through captivating modern illustrations. This artistic revival not only breathes new life into the rich heritage of Cambodia but also resonates with the younger generation who yearn for fresh and appealing artistic expressions. But who are the people spearheading this movement and exploring how they are redefining Khmer art for the contemporary world.


Young pioneers of this wave like artists from KampumEra, all young artists who are taking on their own styles of what Khmer traditional art means to them. This includes street artists like Kmeng Lyna, who is known for her art shows of legendary female characters and her take on new technology and urbanisation; FONKi, a Canadian Khmer, who is redefining what his khmer roots means to him. Davido, who highlights the beauty of animals in Cambodia, and Kakada Yi, a young muralist and artist who showcases the past and present of Khmer culture.

“I want to promote our culture, to show what Cambodia has and the need to preserve it, to take care of it as it is fragile and let other countries know,” says Kakada, “Because that’s our heritage.” Inspired by the community around him , Kakada has successfully displayed his artwork in the newly opened Starbucks in Siem Reap.

Embracing Tradition in Modern Businesses

The concept of adapting traditional Khmer images into illustrated or animated artworks has gained traction among businesses in contemporary Cambodia. Companies like Brown Coffee and Koi The have already integrated modern interpretations of Khmer culture into their branding. Kongchak Pictures, for instance, has been designing captivating art that resonates with young Cambodians who take pride in their heritage while being drawn to charming and playful artistic expressions.

Kongchak Pictures, known for its artistic creativity over the past six years of design, showcases its interpretations of holidays such as Pchum Ben during the rainy season holiday. Each occasion provides an opportunity for the artists to express their imaginative vision through illustrations and artwork. Even smaller events like the Royal Ploughing Ceremony have found their way onto popcorn buckets, beautifully blending tradition with contemporary aesthetics.

Nicolas Thevenet, the marketing manager of Kongchak Pictures, expresses his team’s dedication to creating artwork that resonates with Cambodian people while allowing young artists to express their unique vision of culture and traditions. This delicate balance between tradition and innovation is a subject of ongoing discussion among many artists in Cambodia, as they strive to gain recognition on the international art scene. One such artist, Penkuro, has emerged as a proponent of playful artwork featuring traditional Khmer icons, infusing a sense of celebration and accessibility.

Shaking Up Traditions

Penkuro highlights the challenges faced by young artists in finding motivation to produce local art in a context where traditional and cultural arts are often revered, exclusive, and difficult to approach. To overcome this, he advocates for celebrating and making Khmer arts more accessible, encouraging artists to interpret traditional art in their unique styles. This approach ignites a dialogue on how Cambodian arts can evolve, grow, and be respected without losing their inherent value.

Daro Sam, a conceptual artist, acknowledges the complexity of preserving traditional respect and cultural aspects in modernized art forms. In his thought-provoking piece titled “Art Oppression,” Daro illustrates an Apsara-shaped alien locked away from public view. The artwork symbolizes the need to look back at the past while simultaneously moving forward—a departure from the belief that Khmer art and culture must remain unchanged. Instead, Daro advocates for artistic evolution and the creation of something new, encouraging a broader perspective on Cambodian art.

The emergence of young designers and artists reclaiming traditional Cambodian imagery through modern illustrations marks an exciting chapter in Cambodia’s artistic landscape.

Their collective efforts have breathed new life into fading art forms, making them relevant and accessible to the younger generation. Festivals, businesses, and visionary artists like Penkuro and Daro Sam are leading the way in this cultural transformation.

Illustrating the Future

Individuals are encouraged to join this movement by embracing and celebrating the fusion of tradition and modernity. Supporting businesses like Kongchak Pictures, who create captivating artwork that resonates with young Cambodians and instills a deep sense of pride in their cultural heritage, becomes an important step. By recognizing and promoting this artistic evolution, people can contribute to the continued growth and global recognition of Cambodian arts.

Together, a re-imagination of Cambodian art can be achieved, preserving its enduring legacy while embracing the possibilities of the future. Bridging the gap between tradition and contemporary expression, while honoring the rich cultural heritage, will inspire a new generation of artists and art enthusiasts worldwide.

Article by: Sotheavy Nou

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