French artist Cyril Phan, better known by his artist name, Kongo, is steadily connecting street artists across the globe through a worldwide graffiti tour.
The Kosmopolite Art Tour, which started nearly a decade ago and is now taking place in Jakarta, aims to link different cultures through art.
“Our idea is to make an exhibition that will be our ‘town,’ named Kosmopolis,” Kongo said. “It’s a place without borders, where the works from big graffiti capitals are displayed so people can see that graffiti is a universal language, despite the different characteristics and the uniqueness of each culture.”
The art tour started in Bagnolet, France, in 2002, and the project has grown on a global scale since then, with Jakarta selected as an Asian hub this year.
“We love Jakarta because first, it’s a big city, and second, it has become a graffiti hub in Southeast Asia,” Kongo said. “The city has so much talent. On the streets, we can see graffiti and different artistic approaches and styles.”
The Jakarta leg of the tour runs until Wednesday and it has drawn number of Indonesian bombers, or graffiti artists, including Darbotz, Kims, Nsane5, Tutu, Shake, Hest1, Koma, Wormo, Netic and Older. Kongo is one of the international guest artists, along with Lazoo, from France, and Besok, from the Netherlands.
As part of the program, Kongo will share some of his designs, his extensive knowledge of graffiti and information about his background, often coveted in the quasi-secretive world of street art.
He’ll also team up with local bombers to paint a giant mural production during a jam session on Sunday. Artists in other cities have already painted similar collaborative mural projects, combining their individual artistic visions on one giant wall.
“In Indonesia, the vocabulary and graffiti flair is very different than it is in Europe and the US,” Kongo said. “It’s interesting to have our individual attributes all mashed up on one wall.”
The world art tour began when Kongo and some fellow European artists took photographs of graffiti in Paris, printing the images and bringing them to Sao Paulo, Brazil. Bombers in Sao Paulo then painted the images in their city on the “Wall of Paris,” which was also photographed.
Then the tour moved east to Asia, and the Sao Paulo photographs came to Jakarta. When artists gather this Sunday for the mural production jam session, they will paint on the “Wall of Brazil,” and as the journey continues, the “Wall of Jakarta” will be painted in Johannesburg. The public will see the results of the entire global tour in a final exhibition.
“In the graffiti world we use spray cans to paint, but each artist has a different background and experience,” Kongo said. “We invite them all to express themselves. For Indonesian artists, they ‘write’ in Indonesian, for example. You will interpret graffiti differently, and you can explain so many things with graffiti.”
A self-taught painter and an avid traveler, Kongo has been out and about in the graffiti scene since 1987. The French-Vietnamese artist has toured China, Africa and the United States, taking part in many cultural and artistic events.
Recently, Kongo went to Singapore and adorned Scotts Square with his dynamic art creation “Graffiti by Hand,” an ongoing collaboration between Kongo and the French luxury brand Hermes. His work also kicked off an urban art festival in November as part of the Voilah! French Festival Singapore 2011.
Kongo will return to Singapore for the opening of the Hermes store at Scotts Square next Friday. The event will feature a graffiti demonstration, and guests will also have a chance to check out the “Graff Hermes” scarf, which Kongo designed for this year’s fall and winter collection.
“Artists make art everywhere,” Kongo said. “I have my work on walls, but I have painted on canvas, and I have made installations before. Graffiti artists should explore all media.”
Most important, Kongo is trying to encourage graffiti artists to be authentic and represent who they really are.
“You can’t invent your history and you can’t claim respect,” he said. “History is written by time, while respect should be gained. To be a good graffiti artist, it’s not just about aesthetic, but you have to stay in the game for a long time.”