Walls that talk art

No longer re­garded as il­le­gal “eye­sore”, graf­fiti art is gain­ing recog­ni­tion as a le­git­i­mate art­form, writes

New Straits Times - - Pulse - From my child­hood in my art­work. It could be some­thing nos­tal­gic that we all can re­late to, like ayam (cock­erel), since I’m a kam­pung boy. “I also painted a pray­ing man­tis once. Do you re­mem­ber that song when we were small?” he asks me, eyes light­ing up.

IT was scorch­ing hot in Ge­orge Town, Penang. Sweat trick­led down my back, soak­ing my shirt. The straw hat I was sport­ing didn’t seem to help much. I was in Penang a cou­ple of years ago to ex­pe­ri­ence the Ge­orge Town Fes­ti­val and hap­pened to be walk­ing down Ah Quee Street with my brother.

“Stop!” I re­call my brother yelling, im­me­di­ately stop­ping me in my tracks. He pointed to a wall and asked whether I wanted to have a pic­ture taken in front of it.

Then I saw it — the fa­mous “Boy on a Bike” mu­ral, with a real old bike at­tached to rusty red wooden doors and a draw­ing of a boy wear­ing a hel­met who ap­peared to be rid­ing the bike. Of course I wanted a pic­ture to be taken there.

There’s no way that vis­i­tors to Ge­orge Town should leave with­out at least pos­ing for pos­ter­ity with some of the amaz­ing street art that grace many of the once-grey walls in the town. Most of these works, I later dis­cover, be­long to Lithua­nian artist Ernest Zachare­vic whose name is now syn­ony­mous with Penang.

Mean­while, in the UK, an anony­mous graf­fiti artist who goes by the name of Banksy has been mark­ing his ter­ri­tory on streets, walls and bridges of cities through­out the world. As of 2014, Banksy’s been re­garded as a Bri­tish cul­tural icon and

‘Boy on a Bike’ by Ernest Zachare­vic in Penang.

Acit’s ‘Ban­gau’ mas­ter­piece in Hong Kong.

has even had his work shown in gal­leries such as Sotheby’s in Lon­don.

But what about closer to home? Do we have our own Malaysian cul­tural icon when it comes to street art? Well, Ab­dul Rashid Ab­dul Ra­man, or Acit as he’s fondly known, has been dab­bling in graf­fiti since 2007. The artist has his own dis­tinc­tive style and loves

Acit paint­ing the ‘ban­gau’.

to in­cor­po­rate Malay cul­tural elements into his art, such as batik.

ACIT’S STORY

Not long ago, street art was re­garded as a form of van­dal­ism in this coun­try. And this was the very rea­son why Acit would in­dulge in it dis­creetly, usu­ally at night af­ter work. When he was work­ing with Cen­tral Mar­ket, he used to go down the Klang River to paint the walls there.

“I was so ner­vous. I’d look left and right and was al­ways scared of get­ting caught,” re­calls Acit when we meet at The Curve in Petaling Jaya.

Tak­ing me back to his early days, this Pe­nan­gite shares that he’d al­ways had a pas­sion for art, even from a young age. His can­vas back then was the ground in the com­pound of his house in Ba­lik Pu­lau. His tools? His fingers. He later stud­ied Mul­ti­me­dia at Mara Poly­Tech in Ipoh, Perak, and went on to work with Cen­tral Mar­ket be­fore be­ing em­ployed by an an­i­ma­tion com­pany, Les’ Copaque.

He be­friended some graf­fiti artists who in­flu­enced him to try his art skills on a wall in­stead of the com­puter. And it wasn’t long af­ter that he re­ally started to grow fond of this rather un­con­ven­tional form of art. “I like the fact that I can use my whole body to paint in­stead of sit­ting at the desk and just mov­ing the mouse,” con­fides Acit, be­fore shar­ing that he quit his de­sign job in 2014 to pur­sue graf­fiti full-time.

His first body of “work” in this area fea­tured pre­dom­i­nantly let­ters be­fore he grad­u­ated to ab­stracts. “My sig­na­ture is batik. But I also like to use all the elements

(in­sert any name)

When I was a kid, I’d sing this song and use my sis­ter’s name. The pray­ing man­tis would then move and I’d be­lieve that that’s how my sis­ter po­si­tions her­self when she sleeps. “Peo­ple pre­fer some­thing that they can un­der­stand,” adds Acit, smil­ing at my com­pre­hen­sion.

MAG­I­CAL MILE­STONE

Suf­fice to say, this af­fa­ble street artist has come far. In fact, Acit flew to the United Arab Emi­rates dur­ing Ra­madan last year with seven other Malaysian artists to paint 24 walls in the ul­tra-mod­ern city of Dubai.

Re­calls Acit: “Dubai doesn’t have lo­cal artists. My Malaysian artist friend hap­pens to work there so when his com­pany re­ceived this project, he called us.”

A de­vel­oper there was hop­ing to re­vive an old shop­ping area in the city by show­cas­ing some fea­tures of Dubai’s cul­ture. So Acit took the op­por­tu­nity to draw knit­ting yarns, as tex­tile is one of Dubai’s ear­li­est and old­est trades. “It took us more than a month to fin­ish the project. We even cel­e­brated Raya over there,” he shares, chuck­ling.

Mean­while, in Hong Kong, Acit was the sole rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Malaysia out of the 38 artists who par­tic­i­pated in the HKWALLS graf­fiti event. The Malaysian was given the free­dom to choose his sub­ject and he opted to paint the (egret), some­thing that many Malaysians can re­late to through the folk song, The egret also hap­pens to be a sym­bol of eter­nity in Chi­nese mythol­ogy.

AC­CEPTED ART FORM

“There’s been such a pro­lif­er­a­tion of mass me­dia cov­er­age on this (mat­ter), which in turn has led to so much pub­lic cu­rios­ity

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