Boueng Kak is the place to go if you want to experience street art, culture and activism. Located in the north of Phnom Penh, near Toul Kork, this area was once a thriving lake estuary, which tourists flocked to. Today, it is still thriving but there is no lake and because of that there aren’t many tourists. Instead there is a dilapidated community adorned with beautiful street art from local and international artists and the people who have a story to tell.
So what is their story?
In 2007, Boueng Kak was leased for 99 years by the Cambodian government to a company named Shukaku. Owned by Lao Meng Khin, a senator in the current ruling political party, his company’s lease was approved by the Prime Minister, Hun Sen.
Upon approval, sand from the Mekong River was taken to fill the lake. So came the sand and by 2010 90% of the lake had been filled. Now it is non-existent. With the disappearing of the lake came the disappearing of its animal inhabitants, but to the dismay of the government not its people.
Before the sand, Boueng Kak was home to 4,000 families, all of whom are now displaced. Some families accepted money from the government as reparation (who knows if they actually got the $8,000USD they were promised), some families got shipped out 20 kilometers out of the city to figure it out for themselves and some families willing left; knowing they had no other option. All of these families lost their homes, piece of mind and livelihood- but they did not loose their voice.
They protested in their community going toe-to-toe against police getting shot, sprayed and hit. They’ve marched to government offices and they’ve marched to the Prime Minister’s house. These marches and protests continue to this day.
They drew the attention of the World Bank, and in 2011, a loan ban was placed on Cambodia for the specific reason of the systemic land evictions in the Boueng Kak area as well as others. This ban could possibly be up this year, 2015. The evictees requested to have a meeting with the World Bank in Thailand so they could feel safe speaking freely against their government. The World Bank denied this, on February 20, 2015, and has expressed zero intention of meeting with the evictees before making a decision.
Which brings us back to the beginning. While many are protesting, others have created a space where both local and international street artists are coming to paint. Through originality, they are re-claiming their land and bringing awareness to their space and struggle. Don’t go there expecting to see activism in the form of Occupy Wall Street, all you’ll probably notice is the art, some hostels, plastic tables set up letting you know it’s a restaurant and more than likely some kind of event or party.
This art movement is new and the people themselves aren’t sure what to do with it other than enjoy it, and so should you. If you’re in Phnom Penh and want to experience something truly off-the-beaten path and be a witness to a community reclaiming itself you need to go to Boueng Kak. Check out their Facebook for updates on events and to see pictures of the art. Check out this short, 3.5 minute, video to learn more
Check out this blog for the most up-to-date news on the political situation surrounding the Boueng Kak community and its people.