Street Art in Malaysia is helping me see something new
I’ve never been a huge fan of street art in Malaysia or graffiti anywhere else in the world for that matter. Don’t get me wrong, I think that freedom of expression is of paramount importance today. It simply never visually appealed to me.
Then, the more I traveled, the more I saw how good street art livens up bland, grey, dirty and boring cities.
Yes, street art can look like vandalism, or the work of bored youth.
But look a little deeper at good street art and you can see something quite revealing about a society, a culture, and the times they are living in.
Leslie Koch who writes for the informative Downtown Traveler online magazine began writing about street art in New York city, and it irked my curiosity how Street Art in Malaysia was being created.
This is what I saw …
Street art or vandalism?
Generally speaking I find street art in Malaysia to be artistic rather than the typical scrawl signatures littering many cities. With street art you do have to factor in chance before discovering good works of art.
And, like a lot of art, it can be relative.
Does the old couple walking ahead of me look at the picture of a movie poster and think it’s just vandalism?
Or do the teenagers beside me think of it as an act of rebellion rather than artistic expression?
Turn a corner and you could find someone marking their territory, or you could find someone depicting a powerful message. A message that could be washed away in a few hours.
It is this “random” effect that makes me enjoy street art in Malaysia today
Street Art in Malaysia reflects what the people on the ground are thinking
Street Art in Kuala Lumpur is all about big bold colors with the message of freedom of expression. In a city where there are religious police, racial tension and strange rules that only certain people must obey, there is a call of visual expression.
It reflects a lot on how I found Western Malaysia. There’s a social divide there, and people are still trying to find their voices. Visual street art is helping them be heard.
Kuala Lumpur street art is about now, and about being heard
I walked along a drainage run off in Kuala Lumpur near Pasar Seni to get some close up shots of 20ft artists work on display there. A lot of this work came about in the 2010 Kul Sign Festival and again in the 2011 Kul sign Festival. A promotional festival highlighting such things as an understand between city hall officials and constructive graffiti artists, public awareness of graffiti art, and as a way to promote tourism.
Today it brightens up a long boring stretch of drab concrete. Still maintained by some artists it’s not that accessible to the public aside from distant viewing. Along the way I had to avoid some unsavory types, a few police, and the odd dog to get close up shots of the street art.
The street art here depicted a lot of movie poster spin offs. Animated cartoons, and several quotations about street art itself. Almost as if the artists themselves were trying to educate people that street art is good, and has a purpose.
The promotional Kul Sign festival once again in February 2012 more details on their FaceBook page.
Street Art in Kota Kinabalu
Another capital, in the same country but in a different region, and street art brings a different message.
Here it’s all about the past.
Here there’s a more tribal feel to the art. It’s also drawn on old abandoned buildings, not on modern walkways.
There are direct messages here. Some about fun, but a lot from one artist about WW2.
The depiction of a woman praying with the writing “remember WWII” would not be lost in a modern gallery.
What’s more, it’s drawn on a broken column.
Street art in Malaysia: KL vs KK
I’ll have to give my personal nod to the street art I found in Kota Kinabalu. There’s not that much of it around in this pristine South East Asian city. And, it seems to be very distinct with direct messages. Then again, I do have a slight bias for historical references.
While in Kuala Lumpur, it was bigger, more generic, and less cryptic.
Both certainly made me look at the cities differently. If that’s not a tourist attraction to otherwise bland walls, I don’t know what is.
Either way, the street art in Malaysia you’ve seen in this article could be washed away by the time you read this. I hope by photographing a fraction of it that some of this art work will at least be preserved!
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