Where are the baby orang-utans?

The orang-utan mural painted by Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic in April 2014.

By Lian Cheng and Ling Hui

KUCHING, July 1: Where are the Sarawakians’ one-time favourite baby orang-utan murals at Jalan Power?

Following the complaint of a friend of DayakDaily, the team went for a check, only to find out that the adorable orang-utan wall paintings are now gone. 

In their place is a gigantic text which reads “Kuching” in yellow, painted against a dark background. The new but unfinished paintwork that illustrates alphabet balloons appears to be a product advertisement.

Gone are the tiny hanging baby orang-utan and another five sitting in a wheelbarrow. The tree branch and the wheelbarrow that used to be physically there were also nowhere to be seen.

There were instant moments of disappointment and anger, amid the feeling of frustration and helplessness.  

Are we Sarawakians so crude, unrefined and uneducated, that we can’t even preserve some symbolic street arts created by international artists? 

Are we really of such third-world mentality that we can’t appreciate anything beautiful and reflective of our culture, even though they may appear simple?

The orang-utan murals – the cheeky baby orang-utan hanging from a tree branch and five more, though more adult-looking, looked equally naughty as they squeezed against each other to fit in one wheelbarrow – were a sensation when they were first completed in April 2014 by famous Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic.  

They looked so lovable that many who passed by couldn’t help but take a snap with them.

Not only did the locals find them cute, many international travellers also made it a point to hunt for them while visiting Kuching.

TripAdvisor even set aside a discussion page titled ‘Orang Utan Murals’ with many visitors near and far dropping positive and sweet comments about the six orang-utans.

Ann T from Kuala Lumpur who visited Kuching on Dec 2019 commented, “I like street art, especially those that evoke a sense of nostalgia or positive feelings. The orang-utans were quite cute and the wheelbarrow was real, well, at least half of it. We had fun posing with it. Also to remind us of the need for conservation and rehabilitation of orang-utans.”

Peter R from the United Kingdom said, “Keep your eyes open for the murals dotted around Kuching. The Orangutan ones although a little faded are worth a look and bought a smile to our faces.” (Sept 2019).

Another traveller from the United Kingdom Tinkle_24 wrote, “Beautiful murals found in several places in Kuching. They are all beautiful so make sure you do not miss them! Favourite ones of mine are of the baby orang utans.” (June 2018).

Elizabeth G (country of origin not indicated) said, “Love the cute orang utan murals! They should have more of these cute murals everywhere in the city. It would make it really fun to search for them in the city.” (Nov 2016)

These are some of the comments out of the total 136 reviews presently found on Tripadvisor on the specific topic of “Orang Utan Murals”. The majority of them are positive about the various mural paintings in Kuching city while a countable few commented that they were not worthy to look at.

Locally, the supporters of social media page ‘Kuching – Then and Now’ shared the news of the disappearance of the orang-utan murals on June 28, 2022.  

James SL Yong quoted Jee Fong who posted on June 28 a picture of the hanging baby orang-utan that, “This little guy is gone”.

Yong himself commented, “Alas some people can’t appreciate street art and painted over this really nice one a few days ago. But I guess we shouldn’t be overly surprised. For a while, the area around the painting was in a messy state, there was rubbish in the wheelbarrow (for the accompanying meal with many orang-utan babies) and no one seemed to care.”

To many locals like Yong or Fong, the feeling of fondness for the orang-utan murals was either as much as the visitors or even more. Many believe that the orang-utan murals not only are reflective of Sarawak’s culture, but also brought back sweet childhood memories of being naughty and cheeky like climbing trees and perhaps squeezing into a wheelbarrow.

Of course, like all situations, there was another bunch of locals on the other side of the spectrum, who could not appreciate the meaning of such artwork, but saw them as having “no value”, “dispensable” and “disposable”.

With the innocent orang-utans gone and unable to be recovered, the question begs to be answered: Would the other murals that also draw smiles, warm hearts, and evoke memories in Kuching city face the same fate in the near future? — DayakDaily