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Sabah’s Vanishing Wildlife Nightmare Hits Kota Kinabalu Streets

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In the centre of Kota Kinabalu, a pygmy elephant flees for its life from a hideous vampire-fanged, evil businessman.

The tiny elephant is just one of many panic-stricken animals high-tailing it from their vanishing jungle home in search of safety.

We can make out a sunbear, a proboscis monkey, a rhinoceros, a tarsier and others as they stampede by.

This is the stuff of which nightmares are made.

It’s not real, of course. It’s just a painting on a wall.

The snarling businessman is a self-portrait by local artist Haw Ding, who added fangs and drool to make himself look more wicked.

This particular greedy businessman may not be real but the hellish mural is turning heads with its powerful depiction of the very real plight of native Sabah wildlife devastated by human greed.

“We want to spread awareness of the beautiful and endangered animals of Sabah,” graffiti artist Kenji Chai, whose East Tribe group initiated the mural project, told FMT.

"We know we can’t change much but we do what we can through our art.”

The mural, called Vanishing Wall, adorns long-deserted, derelict warehouses along Jalan Tanjung Lipat, near the old Customs Department and Suria Sabah mall.

We might think Vanishing Wall refers to the vanishing species depicted, but Sandakan native Chai explained it refers to the doomed buildings themselves. He wanted to transform the remaining walls before they are torn down and vanish forever.

Chai invited artists from local outfit CrackoArt Group and peninsular Battalion KL to contribute to the project.

“There’s a lot of talent in KK, so I decided to showcase and enhance our different styles. They call this ‘art jamming’. So when people hire these artists, it will be based on their own style, doing what they love in art.”

Other project murals are also inspired by pop culture. There’s a “Joker Wall” tucked away inside the abandoned Vanishing Wall site.

“Joker Wall’s based on the recent movie, and features many of our artists,” said Chai. “I think it’s cool and relates to society now.”

“There are people who don’t support art or artists, who think art is cheap and has no future,” he said. “We are here to show them that we can make it one day.

“We painted the Vanishing Wall a few months ago and got a good response from the public. The mural is near the International Cruise Terminal and Chai hopes that it will attract the attention of international visitors. I want to show foreigners who visit KK that our painting and standard of art is very high so they can tell their friends back in their own countries.”

They are looking forward to transforming another abandoned structure in KK next year. They haven’t found a site yet and are open to suggestions.

“Art should not be restricted to galleries; it can be anywhere, on anything. These public walls are our gallery. And we love to change abandoned places into something valuable through art,” he said. “If we can’t find another building, we can always complete the original wall.”

Chai is a full-time artist, now based in Kuala Lumpur. He’s a globetrotter who has participated in art projects in China, Kazakhstan, and Mongolia. He is currently in India working on his next venture.

He may be away from Sabah now but he hopes the Vanishing Wall is making people think.


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