AKID One and SKLO. Meet two renowned visual artists from different backgrounds as they join forces for the first time at Art Lane.” The statement on the collaborative George Town Festival 2018 and Singapore Designers’ Showcase poster immediately catches my attention as soon as I walk out of The Wembley Hotel on Penang’s Magazine Road.
The former is none other than Mohd Zulfadli Ahmad Nawawi, the Kelantanese artist who singlehandedly introduced street art to Alor Star when he immortalised two of Malaysia’s greatest national leaders on the side walls of a pair of pre-war shop houses.
Although the feat was accomplished some three years ago but, right up to this very day, Akid One’s artwork featuring Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad and Tunku Abdul Rahman still manages to attract legions of fans daily.
MEETING AKID ONE
Although the place is already filled with a sizeable crowd comprising a good mix of local visitors as well as foreign tourists, it’s not difficult to locate Akid One as he’s the main crowd favourite. Inching my way forward to get a better view of the large wall mural featuring a demure Malay lady exactly behind Akid One, I come within earshot of the conversation between him and a group of teenagers who express a keen interest in his past. The youngsters appear to be aspiring artists, judging from their worn-out sketchbooks.
Hailing from Kota Bharu and speaking with a heavy Kelantanese Malay slang, Akid One tells the group that he began nurturing his artistic talent while pursuing his studies at Kolej Yayasan Melaka (KYM) in 2002. The artist admits that he only realised his artistic inclinations during a water colouring competition organised by KYM towards the end of his three year diploma course in animation.
“My confidence received a boost after winning the top award in that competition. With the RM2,000 cash prize came the opportunity for me to finally realise my dream of learning graffiti art. I used part of the money to purchase the expensive spray paint and haven’t looked back since,” shares the mural artist.
Continuing, he says that most members of society consider wall painting as a form of vandalism but he begs to differ. “When done properly and with the necessary permission, it actually becomes a great opportunity for an artist to express talent. I like mural painting as it allows a bigger audience to see my composition compared to those done on canvas and paper.”
When asked about his most memorable achievement, Akid One immediately cites his work commissioned by Petronas back in 2014 that placed his name and that of a fellow artist who assisted him, Abdul Qoyyum Mohd Nadzri, in the Malaysia Book of Records.
“We were only given eight days to paint a gigantic mural on the side of a 12-storey building in Kuala Lumpur’s Jalan Raja Chulan based on the theme ‘Tanahair Ku’ (My Country). In view of the time constraints, Abdul Qoyyum and I engaged a crane equipped with a skylift and used a combination of spray paint as well as rollers. The latter allowed us to cover more ground within a short time while the former was used to provide finer detail finishing,” recalls Akid One before beckoning two people standing at the back to join him.
SINGAPORE’S STICKER LADY
Introducing the first as his wife, Nazreen Nur Edora Abdul Nasir, Akid One tells us that she’s the inspiration for his Art Lane mural. The second turns out to be Samantha Lo, a Singapore-based visual artist whose work revolves around social commentaries fuelled by daily observations of her surroundings and research into the socio-political climate in her country.
Lo’s intrigue with the concept of culture and bold executions in some of her early forays into street art has her dubbed as the ‘Sticker Lady’, a nickname lovingly given by the city in reference to her work on the streets of Singapore. Since then, Lo’s work has been centred on understanding the world we live in and how our actions eventually become interdependent on each other.
Apart from indulging in visual art, this 30-year-old artist who goes by the moniker SKLO is the founder of an artist management and creative consultancy called Project XIV as well as the online publication platform for Singaporean talent named RCGNTN.SG.
When asked about her usual modus operandi, SKLO admits that she’s on a constant lookout for other means of artistic expression despite the fact that stickers have become sort of a trademark for her.
"I enjoy finding ways to leave my mark without getting into any serious trouble,” she confides while citing her use of nonpermanent materials like chalk paint and experimenting with reverse graffiti, where people have to clean things up in order to reveal an image. “An example of that is when I prank my neighbours by scribbling ‘Clean Me’ on cars that need a good wash,” she adds, eyes twinkling.
Before resuming work on the nearlycompleted mural with Akid One, SKLO adds that her street art work is the primary avenue where she connects with people. "I’m a prankster and there are no two ways about that. The main reason for reaching out to the streets is for people to see my creations and at the same time spend a light hearted moment thinking about them. I’m on a journey as an artist and naturally I want people to walk with me and share my experiences,” admits SKLO before turning to check on her stickers on the wall.
Watching the duo complement each other’s passion, it suddenly dawns upon me how art is able to help people from different nationalities come together while transcending borders. Their spirit of collaboration here at Art Lane further exemplifies the strong community of creative minds and flourishing art scene in both Malaysia and Singapore.
Leaving the crowd behind, I head off to visit the seven other designer stalls that are part of ConneXions: Passion Made Possible, the cultural showcase taking centre stage at this year’s George Town Festival. Apart from the interesting displays at Art Lane, festival goers also have the opportunity to explore various other venues in the city to experience the best of Singapore and Penang through music, visual and traditional art, film and food.
PERANAKAN TILE DESIGNS
Among the many interesting exhibits, the colourful Peranakan tiles at the stall belonging to Vintage Fabrics Crafts capture my attention. The colourful designs remind me of the vintage ceramics that decorate the facade of heritage buildings and prewar shop houses found in both Penang as well as Singapore.
Eve Lim, the chatty founding owner of Vintage Fabrics Crafts, gives me a quick rundown of her life history prior to the inception of the company. She shares: “I began planning for my retirement at an early age. At 25, I already had a plan to stop working at 50 and spend the rest of my life travelling the world. Leading a frugal life to achieve my goal, I saved as much as I could from salary earned as a marketing executive.”
In 2008, Lim retired as planned but she soon discovered that life had something else in store for her. Her mother, a former seamstress, passed away that same year and she inherited about 100 boxes of rayon, cotton and polyester fabrics. Eve put her travel plans on hold as she called on her marketing skills to dispose of the stock.
“Thanks to my connections with people in the various industries, I managed to sell more than half of my holdings within a short period of time. The remainder were solid coloured fabrics that no one wanted. Faced with a dilemma, I started dusting off my forgotten passion for arts and craft, especially the ones related to the art of screen printing,” quips Lim before telling me about the revelation that caught her by surprise while conducting online research on the subject.
VANISHING ART FORM
Apparently, most people these days screen print using computers and printers. Lim, however, is more interested in the traditional method which is fast vanishing. The age-old technique involves a series of labour intensive steps where a mesh is used to transfer individual coloured ink one at a time onto the target fabric.
Aware that the laborious process may be a discouragement, Lim simplified the technique into easy-to-do, one-hour workshops, which she conducted at craft fairs and pop-up stores throughout Singapore. Fortunately, her workshops proved to be a hit right from the start. Apart from guiding her students on the finer points of screen printing, Lim also teaches stencil crafting.
A few years later, Lim ran into Victor Lim, a passionate collector of Peranakan tiles. It was love at first sight when she saw the intricate Peranakan designs and she made the decision to incorporate the colourful and intricate motifs in her printing stencils.
Although she gets invited to various venues to host workshops, Lim admits that she does occasionally face age discrimination. “The organisers take a look at me and remark that they do not encourage retirees at their events,” she confides.
Undaunted by the insensitive comments, Lim steeled her resolve and soldiered on. Elaborating on this matter with countless photographs of millennial participants at her workshops, she adds: “I don’t want to argue with those who are prejudiced. I prefer to let my work speak for itself and I’m confident that my well-honed marketing skills will stand me in good stead.”
These days, apart from participating in events conducted by the Singapore Tourism Board and the National Arts Council, Lim’s calendar is packed with workshop appointments and also personal sewing projects involving items such as bags and pouches which she sells at events.
Before heading off to attend to a prospective customer, Lim tells me: “I like working for myself as it gives me better control of my time. In the midst of all my work, I now manage to find time to travel. So I’m enjoying the best of both worlds now!”
Before leaving, I climb half way up a flight of stairs to get a good overview look at Art Lane. This thriving creative space, which forms a 121m long through passage which opens out to Victoria Street on the other side, has garnered quite a large loyal following.
Once a rundown hardware shop devoid of a single shred of artistic value, Art Lane is now the place to go to for aspiring artists in George Town. The success of this newlyopened place is largely attributed to the tireless effort of Narelle McMurtrie, owner of China House, a restaurant-cum-gallery located just a few doors down the street.
She, together with several like-minded friends, wants Art Lane to serve as a launchpad for young artists and talents to showcase their passion and skills without having to fork out a fortune or go through the rigmarole for empty wall permits.
Like most things in this world, Akid One and SKLO’s work will not adorn Art Lane permanently. Once every few weeks, the walls here are completely white washed to make space for other talents to show off their creativity. When that happens, I will surely make a return trip to see this amazing place from a totally different perspective.