Experience a delightful street art-sy tour of `inner’ Kuching city

By Karen Bong and Lian Cheng

KUCHING, Feb 6: Elaborate wall murals, creative urban graffiti and street arts of all sizes and styles are bringing life, colour and meaning to the streets and buildings in the old yet characterful part of this charming city of Kuching.

The street art scene in Kuching is thriving alongside modern development touches. Nowadays, a visit to the city is incomplete without a stroll to explore the beautiful work of art adorning the walls of buildings as well as other structures in and around the city.

Kuching is a charming city that celebrates its rich cultural life, interesting history and a harmoniously diverse population. In fact, the art can tell visitors a lot about what makes up this unique city.

Read on to find the best spots for street art in the `old’ corners of Kuching city.

‘The Early Mercers’ at India Street by local artist Leonard Siaw featuring Wee Aik Oh and Sayed Ahmad, who were two pioneer textile traders in India Street.

1/11 ‘The Early Mercers’ at India Street

The back lane of the Old Courthouse along Plaza Merdeka is a great starting point for a street art tour of this city. You can’t miss local artist Leonard Siaw’s portrait painting dedicated to Wee Aik Oh and Sayed Ahmad — the two pioneer textile traders in India Street.

In the early days, textile trading was one of the significant businesses in Kuching. They were mainly run by the Indians and Chinese. It was believed that the two pioneer traders started their business in the 1930s, before World War II.

2/11 Community Arts Project at Kai Joo Lane

Turn into India Street Pedestrian Mall and check out the many shophouses boasting a history of over 140 years and now offering all kinds of goods, particularly textiles and fabrics.

Halfway down the street mall, you will find an alley called Kai Joo Lane. A section of its long wall is covered with artworks done by the local community.

This project was initiated by Kuching North City Hall (DBKU) in collaboration with For Art (F’Art), a non-profit organisation from Perth, Australia. The aim was to engage and instil a sense of belonging for the city among the people by using paintbrush to breathe life into the blank walls.

Also, don’t forget to stop by and visit a small Indian Mosque hidden away in a narrow passageway, locally known as Lorong Sempit, that leads to Gambier Street. It is just opposite Kai Joo Lane. This is one of the oldest mosques in Sarawak. It was built in 1834 by Indian Muslims who migrated to Sarawak from Southern India.

A runaway wheelbarrow full of young orangutans at Jalan Power by famous Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic.
A young orangutan dangling from a gutter pipe casually sipping a kopi-o-peng at Jalan Power.
A collage of murals depicting the scenes of the bustling old Kuching town and the heritage of Sarawak enliven the walls along Jalan Power to the run-down corner of Electra House.

3/11 ‘The Great-Ape-Scape’ and a collection of artworks at Jalan Power

Head down the street mall and make a left turn to Jalan Power. It is believed that the story of Kuching city’s street art begins here sometime in April 2014 when a famous Lithuanian street artist Ernest Zacharevic made his mark by painting two interactive murals — a runaway wheelbarrow full of young orangutans and a young orangutan dangling from a gutter pipe casually sipping `kopi-o-peng’.

The interactive mural was part of a project entitled ‘Brothers from the Jungle’, which was part of Spago Property Sdn Bhd’s initiative to the community by energising the arts and culture scene in the city.

Zacharevic’s style of drawing playfully interact with the surrounding architecture in a way that makes you smile. He even used an actual wheelbarrow sliced in half as a prop, where people can hold and pose for pictures.

Later in April 2017, some 20 Arts and Designs students from UiTM Kota Samarahan campus decorated and enlivened the space that stretches to the run-down corner of Electra House with artwork depicting the scenes of the bustling old Kuching town and the heritage of Sarawak.

Among the colourful art that lined the wall include hornbills, a girl running, a girl feeding pigeons, a little boy playing, a man in Iban traditional costumes, a proboscis monkey sitting on a utility line with two cats on a door awning, a cobbler and buskers plying their trade on the street, a blue public bus, the rainforest and a vendor selling drinks and `lok-lok’.

‘Different Cultures, Same Ice Cream’ featuring four children of various ethnicities enjoying ice cream with caramelised gula apong (palm sugar) at Open Air Market by local artist Leonard Siaw.

4/11 ‘Different Cultures, Same Ice Cream’ at Open Air Market

After taking in the art along Jalan Power, cross the road to the Open Air Market and you will discover a mural of four Sarawakian children, of various ethnicities and in clothes that conjoined to make the Sarawak flag, seated on a bench and enjoying ‘ais krim bergula apong’, or ice cream with caramelised palm sugar.

Don’t miss the opportunity to head inside the market to grab a cup of the local soft serve ice cream from the famous R.G. Ais Krim Bergula Apong and, perhaps, take a photo with the cheerful children.

The mural is another work of Leonard Siaw. It portrays the unity, peace, harmony and cohesive relationships of Sarawakians.

Since you are there, why not also experience the local vibe of the market, which has a very long history, over local delicacies like beef noodle, ‘sio bee’ (dumpling) with fresh soya bean drink, ABC (shaved ice dessert) with ‘rojak’ (local mixed salad with sticky and sweet black fermented shrimp paste) and ‘sotong kangkong’ (cuttlefish and water spinach in sauce and ground peanut) and `kolo mee’ (dry noodle).

This well-known landmark in front of Electra House took its name from the lookout tower of the old Kuching Fire Brigade station built in 1948 at Jalan Gartak. The fire station was demolished sometime in the 1950s, but the tower was left alone until today, and it stands surrounded by a food centre.

5/11 Murals project by iM4U at Lebuh Java down to Jalan Gambier

More murals are featured down at the intersection of Lebuh Java and Jalan Power towards Jalan Gambier (near Brooke Dockyard). Initiated by iM4U, a group of volunteers under the Volunteer Malaysia 2015 Programme, it added some colours to the area with murals of ‘I Love Kuching’ and icons like cats, hornbill, orangutan, mountain, pitcher plant, traditional Dayak motifs, sampans and a Dayak warrior.

The movement was supported by DBKU, in line with its ‘Clean, Beautiful and Safe’ (CBS) plan and to give `soul’ to the city.

6/11 The 43 bollards at Kuching Waterfront

Continue strolling down the Waterfront Esplanade towards the Square Tower and you will find that 43 bollards have been decorated with colourful artworks of all kinds and styles.

Twenty students from Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) created the iconic work of art to brighten up the bustling Kuching Waterfront area.

Alternatively, take a walk to awaken your senses along Gambier Street shophouses (just across the road from the Esplanade). The area is filled with many Indian shops selling curry powder, paste and spices as well as sundry stores selling all kinds of grocery and even household needs.

These shophouses were built more than 160 years ago by the early Chinese settlers before James Brooke arrived in Sarawak in 1839. The architecture of the buildings is very significant and bear resemblance to Indo-Chinese designs that can be found in Penang and Melaka.

The Square Tower is another historical landmark as the whitewashed edifice was built in 1879 as a guard house. Look across and you will find the old Clock Tower and the Charles Brooke Memorial in front of the Old Courthouse.

#Tanahairku’s ‘Hornbill, Hibiscus, Harmony’ at Handicraft Wall of Jalan Main Bazaar by artists Dewi Mio and Mohd Nor Shaddiq Mohamad Hamsah.

7/11 #Tanahairku – ‘Hornbill, Hibiscus, Harmony’ at Handicraft Wall of Jalan Main Bazaar

Walk along the Kuching Waterfront and take in the view of the mighty Sarawak River with the Darul Hana Bridge and the relatively new State Legislative Assembly Complex in the background, or wander through Main Bazaar. It is the oldest street in this city, dating back to the 1840s. You can find a lot of local handicrafts, art galleries, and other vintage and antique products of Sarawak.

As you get closer to the traffic light junction, you will see a giant hornbill perched on the window frames of a green wall looking over the city. This mural by Dewi Mio and Mohd Nor Shaddiq Mohamad Hamsah carries an important message of unity that is lived through the spirit of ‘Agi Idup Agi Ngelaban’ (which means `never give up’ in the Iban language).

Take a closer look and you will discover that the ‘Hornbill’ is resting on an Iban shield (known as ‘terabai’ in Iban language) with the word ‘Harmony’ painted across as it protects its homeland’s rich flora and fauna symbolised by the ‘Hibiscus’.

The #tanahairku Street Art project was by Petronas to bring together talented artists across the nation to express their ideas of unity and love for Malaysia.

A massive anamorphic artwork entitled ‘Wild About Kuching by local artist Leonard Siaw featuring a baby orangutan, famous senior orangutan Aman, a brightly coloured bird nursing and feeding seven birdies in its nest and the jungle scene wrapped around the Singgahsana Lodge at Temple Street.

8/11 Wild About Kuching on Singgahsana Lodge, Temple Street

Head down towards Tua Pek Kong Temple at the junction of Main Bazaar and Temple Street. This is the oldest Chinese temple in the city that was built in 1876. Walk up to the temple’s outer courtyard and catch a glimpse of Aman, the senior orangutan living in Semenggoh Wildlife Centre, and a baby orangutan busting the wall of Singgahsana Lodge.

This massive anamorphic artwork entitled ‘Wild About Kuching’ is probably the largest in Kuching city as it wrapped around the entire facade of the Singgahsana building, measuring 80-foot wide and three-storey high.

Anamorphic art is a form of artwork that makes a piece appear distorted until you view it through a certain device or from a certain fixed perspective point.

Leonard Siaw was commissioned to create this masterpiece of a jungle scene right in the heart of a concrete jungle as part of the What About Kuching (WAK) 2017 — a festival that celebrates the arts, cultures and lifestyles of people of Kuching.

It took Siaw a month to complete the jungle of wildlife and exotic creatures, including a brightly coloured bird nursing and feeding seven birdies in its nest at the back of the building.

#Tanahairku’s ‘Children’ on St Mary’s wall at Wayang Street by Mohd Afiruddin (Dean R) and Amey Sheikh Ali.

9/11 #Tanahairku – ‘Children’ on St Mary’s wall at Wayang Street

Cut across through the back alley of Singgahsana Lodge and walked passed a miniature fountain and garden towards the road junction with Hong San Si Temple in view on the opposite of Wayang Street.

A little to the left, you cannot help but feel the joy and warmth just seeing the portraits of children high up on St Mary’s school wall. It was created by Mohd Afiruddin (Dean R) and Amey Sheikh Ali, who left a message including the words ‘Menua Kitai’ (meaning our homeland), where people of different races and beliefs lived harmoniously together.

By the way, the miniature fountain and garden itself has a spooky tale to tell. According to legend, during the reign of the first White Rajah in Sarawak in the 1830s, Rajah James Brooke saw a boy about seven years old playing with water next to the Hong San Si grand stage when he passed the area.

The Rajah asked the people about the boy, only to be told that they could not see a boy of his description there. The followers of the temple believed the boy was the manifestation of Kong Teck Choo Ong — a boy deity.

The Rajah then marked the spot by erecting a water hydrant there to bring prosperity to Kuching, but it was later torn down to make way for development. The fire hydrant was later reinstalled together with the garden in 2005.

Colourful graffiti along the laneway beneath Jalan Wawasan by various local artists that brings a much-needed splash of excitement to the gloomy corner of this underpass.

10/11 Colourful graffiti along the laneway beneath Jalan Wawasan

Walk downhill to Jalan Wawasan right next to the Hong San Si Temple and get to the underpass. Here, you’ll find a long stretch of wall covered in a variety of different graffiti pieces but are slowly fading with time.

Local artists have made their opinions and emotions known through colours, images, words and art that shine from this wall.

But more importantly, their works also helped to revitalise the dull and soul-less expanses of the concrete wall and bring a much-needed splash of excitement to the gloomy corner of this underpass.

#Tanahairku’s ‘Leaping Feline’ at Ethnic Tribal Cafe on Carpenter Street.

11/11 #Tanahairku – ‘Leaping Feline’ at Ethnic Tribal Cafe, Carpenter Street

Take the shortcut through the back alleyway of Drunk Monkey Old Street Bar located in the middle of the graffiti laneway to get to Carpenter Street.

At this point of the day, it will probably have been a few hours into your street art tour, so take a break and chill out with some food and drink at Drunk Monkey.

Just opposite the bar, a mural of a domestic cat with the hind of a clouded leopard wearing traditional Iban headgear is leaping off the wall of Ethnic Tribal Cafe. This vibrant mural by local artists Sonia Luhong and Amy Amin tells about moving ahead into a progressive future, while the hind leg signifies Sarawak strong identity and roots.

The details in the mural also represented four distinct ethnic groups in Sarawak that can be seen in the Chinese clouds, Iban headgear, the Malay `pucuk rebung’ and the Indian `mandala’. — DayakDaily