translated by Soong Phui Yee
Two murals by the same artist have different fate.
The mural “Little Children On A Bicycle” in Penang by Lithaunian-born artist Ernest Zacharevic was featured in a post on British national daily The Guardian website as one of the world’s 15 best murals, gaining fame for Zacharevic, as well as Penang.
The graffiti depicting a snatch-theft crime in Johor Bahru, however, has triggered a controversy. The general public and netizens hailed the work for creatively reflecting the reality while the authority denouncing it for destroying the city’s image and ordered it to be removed.
Over the past few months, unsightly graffiti can be found on walls in the old town of Johor Bahru but no action had been taken by the MBJB which is located nearby. Today, however, the city mayor himself issued an order, demanding the graffiti to be removed. The absurd and overreacting move has become a joke, while leading to an outcry from the public.
The graffiti showing a female pedestrian and a bandit holding a knife was painted by Zacharevic. He said that when he was in Johor Bahru and asked local people that “in addition to the Legoland Theme Park, what other places are worth visiting?”, they always answered: “There are some other places, but you have to be careful….” The “reminder” then inspired him to paint the graffiti.
Zacharevic might not have thought that while hitting the greatest pain of the local people, the graffiti has also caught the authority in an embarrassing situation of “shame”. Therefore, the major was forced to issue the removal order, while another two murals that have not triggered any controversy might also be removed like the other unsightly graffiti in that area.
Shouldn’t art reflect reality? Isn’t the graffiti depicting a snatch-theft crime just exposing a bad scar of Johor Bahru which has already been known well by local people? You may call it a reminder, or a soft taunt. However, could it be so influential to the point where it can destroy the city’s image and deter tourists from visiting the city, as Johor Domestic Trade, Consumerism and Tourism exco Datuk Tee Siew Kiong and JB city mayor Ismail Karim said?
Every city has its beautiful and ugly sides. The ugly side of Johor Bahru would be its crimes that has ruined its beauty. Crimes have always been the greatest pain of local people while “be careful” has always been a reminder for visitors. It is also why the graffiti has captured the hearts of many local people.
The mayor’s order can of course have the graffiti removed but it will not remove the sadness of local people, as well as the people’s memory about the graffiti and the message it brought.
Zacharevic said it well: “Art does not damage a city’s image…crime does”.
Therefore, instead of the graffiti depicting a snatch-theft crime, it is crimes that have ruined the image of Johor Bahru!
* The views expressed in this article are the personal opinion of the columnist and the article first appeared in mysinchew