The beauty of Malaysia through street art.
Street art is a form of artwork displayed in public spaces such as buildings, streets and public transport stations. It may have begun as vandalism, until the hip-hop culture in the 1980s made graffiti a fixture of New York’s urban landscape and graffiti artist Banksy’s iconic works since the 1990s became a contemporary visual art and pop culture phenomenon.
Many cities feature street art as unique local attractions, dedicating spaces and commissioning projects to highlight local talent while driving tourism. London even has an entire neighbourhood of them!
Malaysia has a love-hate relationship with street art. Many still see it as vandalism, as can be seen when acclaimed global calligraffiti artist El Seed, who has award-winning works all over the world, had his mural of Kuala Lumpur painted over by the building landlord. However, these days, local governments and corporations have welcomed it as a meaningful part of contemporary youth and visual arts culture, working with artists across the country to make artworks that reflect the city, the times and the society.
The #tanahairku murals are a series of murals in Kuala Lumpur, Johor Bahru, Kuching and Kota Kinabalu. It was part of the multi-medium #tanahairku PETRONAS national day campaign that spanned from 2014-2016. It included a patriotic song, TV commercials, gallery exhibitions, web films and flash mobs. This campaign was inspired by National Laureate Usman Awang’s poem Tanahair.
The murals are some of the largest graffiti you’ll find in Malaysia. As a matter of fact, Kenji & Cloak’s “The Village & The City” on Jalan Raja Chulan, Kuala Lumpur was certified as the biggest mural on a building by the Malaysia Book of Records at the time. Sadly, this mural is now gone after the building it was on was demolished for development. However, there still can be seen various murals around Kuala Lumpur, most with a similar theme: the diversity of the country and the various races living in harmony. Some were created by some of Malaysia’s most prominent artists such as Cloakwork, Escapeva and Cracko Art Group. There is a #tanahairku mural trail at each of the above cities, and usually complemented by local murals nearby.
The famous murals in George Town (or rather the murals that made George Town world famous aside from its food) were oil paintings, installations, sculptures and stencils with spray paints. A lot of the credit goes to Penang-based Lithuanian contemporary artist Ernest Zacharevic for emblazoning the city with his brilliant artwork.
Ernest gained worldwide recognition in 2012 when he created a series of murals for the George Town Festival. These murals depict scenes of everyday local life. The most popular murals are ‘Children on Bicycle’ and ‘Boy on Motorcycle’. The main attraction of these murals is that some of them are part of an installation, combining structures and sculptures with the paintings.
Malaysian cities are home to plenty more beautiful and poignant street art. For example, Ipoh’s famous mural trail at Ipoh Old Town has aged a little, but they are still as innocent as the day they were painted. Take a nice afternoon stroll along the trail while enjoying the great hospitality and food of the idyllic and charming city.
Meanwhile, Melaka’s regeneration along Sungai Melaka near Jonker Walk was a boon for local street artists. That area has been beautified with lovely graffiti and oil painting murals, like the bright and colourful Kiehl’s mural by Fritilldea. Likewise, the East Coast capitals of Kota Bharu, Kuala Terengganu and Kuantan also have their fair share of murals. One that stands out is the one in Kota Bharu, Kelantan that is famous for its recent Palestine Street Alley Art at Jalan Dato Pati, near the state museum.
Another street mural worth mentioning is one in Kuala Terengganu, Terengganu depicting 6 of Malaysia’s Prime Ministers on the wall of a 47-year-old building that was inaugurated by the late Tun Abdul Razak, Malaysia’s second Prime Minister. Apart from that, the Seremban Art Trail in Negeri Sembilan is also worth a visit for the amazing artwork found in back alleyways and the sides of buildings. Wander off the streets and you’ll spy various references to pop culture on drain pipes, drainage covers, bus shelters and even on trees. Keep your eyes peeled for popular cartoon characters such as Spongebob Squarepants, Marge Simpson and many more!
Murals and graffiti are the most celebrated forms of street art, along with mixed media installations that have become common. Many are a personal statement about the artists themselves, or about the city, society or time they are living in. Some raise awareness on social and political issues, while others use the urban space to display personal artwork.
It is heartwarming to finally see the support and recognition for street art. It’s about time that we celebrate local creativity in new and different forms, one that beautifies and regenerates our cities while helping us reflect on our beautiful country.