Spearheading a youth art movement
COLOURFUL AND BEAUTIFULLY PAINTED, the mural depicting Sarawak’s flora and fauna on the wall along Jalan Taman Budaya has become an irresistible attraction for passers-by to stop and admire the artwork.
More interestingly, the mural was done by a group of talented young local artists who call themselves ‘9Lives’. According to group founder Husni Zuhairin Sarbini, the name references Kuching – the Cat City.
Sitting on the floor in a far corner of Indah Gallery during the ‘Colours of Nature’ art exhibition, the members of 9Lives appear to be working on an art project which they later inform was actually an art session they call Santai Seni (Art Jam). The Art Jam session is one of their trademark projects where for every project or exhibition they have as a group, they bring a different art medium to work on.
“During our previous exhibition, we used plywood as an art medium. This time we have provided wooden sticks and string to challenge people to be creative with them,” said Amy Amin, one of the members of 9Lives.
A fun way to explore their creativity and to learn each other’s craft, it is also a way for them to interact with the public as visitors are invited to join them during the session.
“Actually 9Lives was supposed to have nine members for the ‘Colours of Nature’ exhibition, but due to commitment to other projects we only have seven members,” said Miyo before adding that 9Lives has 12 members in rotation.
The group members behind the ‘Colours of Nature’ exhibition held from Jan 31 to Feb 28 are Husni, Amey Sheikh Ali, Dewi Miyo, Amy Amin, Sonia Wan Luhong, Rafeah Hazaimi and Farhani Junaidi. The month-long art exhibition will also feature the work of Narong Daun, Trudy Tan, and Abyana Virginia Latif at Indah Gallery.
“You can say that 9Lives is more like a community movement where you can expect it to grow bigger and not only stick with one crew the whole time, so you get people in and out and it’s like everyone is under 9Lives as long as you are into art and you are welcome to join us,” added Miyo.
Formed in 2014, the idea of putting together 9Lives was first conceived by Husni when he first thought of doing an art exhibition of the same name featuring the work of various artists. Back then none of them knew each other.
It was not until an event called Pasa Tapok organised at Gita in July last year that they met each other again, inspiring Husni to formalise their group and assemble a handful of artists to share their artwork for public viewing.
“At that time, I remembered Amy was playing the ukulele and Miyo was performing. I saw Farhani’s artwork during the event but she was not there,” said Husni, recalling how he first met his fellow group members.
With the aim of enlisting more local artists across Sarawak to be part of 9Lives, they hope it will become a platform for artists to showcase their talent and artwork, exchanging ideas and learning each other crafts as well as a way to interact with the public. “In Sarawak, we have a lot of talented artists but they are still too shy to show their work,” said Amy.
9Lives’ first exhibition saw the group coming together at the 9th Asia Pacific Orthodontic Conference (APOC) at BCCK, where they also faced their first challenge: an allocated space but no booth or wall to hang their work.
“So we crammed our heads together to think how we could hang our artwork and came up with the concept of ‘Reban Seni’ (The Art Coop). The coop was made out of wood and wire netting and was constructed in a way we could dismantle and put it back together with screws for the next exhibition,” said Husni of the Art Coop which has become one of the unique features of 9Lives. After the art exhibition at BCCK, 9Lives held their second exhibition in November last year during Live @ Wayang Street.
With artists of different styles and techniques in their group, it’s easy to see how distinctive their work is as seen on the wall of Jalan Taman Budaya with seven different style combined together. The group started working on it in December 2014, completing it a month later in January of this year. Disappointingly, it got vandalised soon after completion.
At first, the group was disappointed, but they got over it. Now their fear is that the damage is more on the future of street or mural art rather than the painting itself as it took years for Kuching North City Commission (DBKU) to accord recognition to street artists and legalise graffiti art.
“When the DBKU finally approved the street art, it gave the medium a chance for people to be more open about it since the exposure is good, but when these people suddenly came and started vandalising our artwork, we fear that it will make the authorities reconsider whether street art is such a good idea after all,” said Miyo.
For Husni, he dreaded that other artists or people interested in street art would be discouraged by authorities.
“One thing about street art is that you will be exposed to the risk of vandalism. It’s the same everywhere and Jalan Budaya is actually very dark at night which makes it a perfect spot for vandals,” said Sonia.
On the other hand, the act of vandalism might have come as a blessing in disguise for the future of art in the city.
“The vandalism actually triggered a response from the public; people were outraged over it, so you see how people appreciate the mural and art in general,” said Sonia.
For the members of 9Lives they really appreciated DBKU for commissioning the mural because it meant that the city council was open to street art and they hoped to see more walls around the city become canvasses for artistic expression, not just for 9Lives but for other artists as well.
In the near future, the group is hoping to recruit more art lovers to the group in the hope of exposing the public to the young talents Sarawak has to offer. The group is also planning on having another street art exhibition soon.