ART IN BUILDINGS: Murals and even graffiti have a unique position as they can increase the value of buildings significantly if they turn out to be tourist attractions
Graffiti and murals have long been used as mediums for creative expression. These colourful images on buildings and public structures have also been utilised to promote culture and tourism, among other things. Nevertheless,
Malaysia can still do much more to integrate street art, such as graffiti and murals, into campaigns that can provide invaluable social and commercial value.
The application of graffiti, murals and street art on public and private property has changed our visual landscape immensely. As well as providing another outlet for creative expression, over the years graffiti and murals have attained significant pop culture cachet that has been used freely to promote arts, products, services, property and even tourism.
Although graffiti and murals in Western countries are now considered a genuine artform, in Malaysia it is still in relative infancy. Many people still associate it with vandalism and view these art works with scepticism. Nevertheless, the artform still has some cultural and social resonance within a local context. For example, the tropical paintings painted by the prisoners at Pudu Prison was at one time the world’s longest wall mural until it was controversially demolished a couple of years ago.
Some recent projects have succeeded in shedding this social stigma attached to graffiti and murals. In 2010, the Melaka state government initiated a unique art-oriented, city beautification programme called Melaka River Art Project (Projekarm). A group of mural and graffiti artists were commissioned to repaint a row of historical shophouses along the river in Jalan Kampung Hulu. It quickly became a tourism landmark and is now attractionsone of the must-see spots in Melaka.
“The feedback from the public has been overwhelming.
The murals & graffiti on the Melaka shophouses have definitely boosted tourism. That project was one of our largest-scale mural paintings,” says Razlan Adnan from Warna Art Studio who was one of the artists involved in Projekarm.
“The application of arts such as street art and graffiti on buildings, properties and structures can potentially add historical or heritage value and is beneficial to tourism. People, especially art-loving tourists, like to see something new and creative [and localised] when they visit Malaysia, not just tall buildings,” adds Razlan.
The artist was also involved in KUL Sign Festival, an annual street art festival organised by Dewan Bandaraya Kuala Lumpur (DBKL) where one of the highlights is the international graffiti competition where graffiti artists from countries like Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia, Phillipines, Hong Kong, Sweden and Italy are given the stretch of walls along Klang River at Central Market as their canvass to work on.
It is the perfect example of the use of street art, such as graffiti, to inject fresh energy into drab public structures with vibrant colours and images. It also changes public perceptions of graffiti and murals, not just as an artform but also as an effective promotional tool.
Beyond our borders: To change mindsets, we should look at examples overseas, such as the amazing Stockholm Subway which is essentially a long stretch of art gallery for those travelling on the city’s Metro transportation system. Over 90 out of 100 of the subway stations are decorated with artistic murals, graffiti, sculptures, mosaics, engravings, installations and other forms of street art by over 150 artists. Each station has its own distinctive statement. This endless eye-candy is reputedly the world’s longest art exhibition at 110 kilometres in length and is one of the city’s most popular
Another innovative use of graffiti in promoting tourism is Montreal’s “The Cheating Wall”, a unique campaign to promote tourism between major Canadian cities. Then, there are the 3D graffiti that elevated street art to a completely new level. These art pieces on asphalt and concrete surfaces are so real that they literally “suck” you into their world.
An unforgettable scene out of a fairy tale is Park Guell in Barcelona, Spain. Designed by the famous Antoni Gaudí, who also designed the famed half-completed Sagrada Familia, the park is a garden complex that was originally a commercially unsuccessful housing site. The many unique architecture and artistic elements in the park, besides its famed designer, have made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
These are some of the unconventional, artistically-inclined activities and spaces that Malaysia could emulate to become a first world nation with a soul. Concrete boxes lacking in soul and character as well as beauty just wouldn’t make the cut.
“In Malaysia, we need to change perceptions by providing platforms for young artists. While exposing their creative talents, these platforms provide them with commercial avenues to earn a living. Melaka River Art and KUL Sign Festival have shown that graffiti or murals are not necessarily associated with vandalism of property. They should be given similar prominence in our urban landscape, which is already littered with billboards and outdoor advertisements,” says Razlan.
Beginnings … Although it has been around practically since the beginning of mankind with etchings of symbols, drawings and carvings by cavemen, graffiti burst into public consciousness after inner city kids of New York started writing their names on subway trains in the 1960s. One of the earliest urban graffiti was “Taki 183” – a nickname for a Greek-American youngster named Demetrius who scrawled his moniker on subway station walls and trains.
The modern graffiti phenomenon was born. “Taki 183” spawned many imitators. It was considered a public nuisance, often associated with urban decay and rebellion against authority. Naturally, it morphed into a potent subculture that teenagers quickly latched onto.
Soon after the subway graffiti movement, other facades of public property were used as a canvas for creative expression. Nothing was off limits. From subway trains to walls, buildings and pillars, graffiti and mural artists coloured everything in the landscape.
The rest, as they say, is history. Modern graffiti swiftly evolved from its ghetto beginnings and eventually integrated itself with other mainstream artistic forms such as music, movies and other commercial ventures. Graffiti has become a mainstay in hip-hop culture and is used to peddle all kinds of products. Brands such as Nike and Puma have used graffiti extensively in their marketing
Graffiti, murals and other street art have proven their staying power as legitimate artforms but Malaysia still lags behind in integrating them into its social and cultural fabric. Programmes like Melaka River Art Project show that they serve not just an aesthetic function, but can also be relevant marketing tools to promote industries such as tourism.
Says prominent architect Nafisah Radin: “Graffiti has to a large extent become a well recognised art form, if properly regulated. Like everything else, it must be controlled to have a positive outcome.”
The award-winning architect goes on to say that not everything foreign and unconventional is necessarily bad. “Just look around you. Everything new or foreign must be assessed carefully in its local context. If the positive effects outweigh the negative, why not? Furthermore, the buzz word now is ‘innovate’. ”
“There are potential commercial values to street graffiti and murals in Malaysia. We have produced murals for corporate and private clients, including community campaigns for schools and kindergartens. Why not? I think we should see arts, not just in isolation, but as a holistic way of living and thinking. It can play a more prominent role in developing urban landscaping and townships in Malaysia. It can also be part of our national identity and heritage,” says Razlan who cites the late Ibrahim Hussein, Syed Ahmad Jamal, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara as his creative role models.