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IPOH, March 23 — In the face of all the negativity and loose comments by some leaders, this man stands out as a person who tries to build and celebrate our cultural differences. Eric Lai is an artist and art teacher, who runs an art school in Bercham, Ipoh, called ArtGene Studio.
Over the past two years he has taken the initiative to paint murals on the back streets of Ipoh.
We first heard about Eric’s work from a local publication and we spent some time looking for his street art, which was located in a not so easy to find back street. We both instantly liked and appreciated his art work, and began to bring friends to enjoy the art. We subsequently met him at our home with another friend as the National Early Childhood Intervention Council (NECIC) wanted to commission Eric to do some art work for a child disability conference.
Eric the person turned out to be a simple and humble man, without airs. His straightforward honesty is refreshing. In the course of the discussion, we all asked him how he got started on this particular strip of street art. He said that a friend had commissioned him to paint one mural. After completing the funded mural, he found that once he got his “engine started” (his words), he could not stop painting. It was this inner drive and passion to paint that enabled him to paint other walls on the same street for free.
Eric the artist says that people describe him as having a “stern and serious looking face” totally focused on his piece of art while working. To us, it is the description of a person who wholeheartedly pours himself into his art work. Perhaps this is one reason his art work is so filled with life.
His two main themes have been the beautiful cultural history of Malaysians from all ethnic groups and children. He has painted the Chinese Opera, Wayangkulit, Thaipusam, Lion Dance, Dulang Washers (“ahem”, note the pretty Ipoh ladies), Rubber Tappers, Indian Classical Dance & Music, Gamelan Musicians, Ipoh Pottery Makers, etc. The children’s themes have been Hide & Seek, Bubble Blowing, Classical Games, and one of our favourites Child Playing at Waterfall.
Many of us Ipoh “locals” as well as tourists to Ipoh have been delighted by his work. Whenever we pass by the site we will see Malaysians or overseas tourists stopping to take pictures. Many of the art pieces evoke a memory within us of our childhood. I (Swee-Im) remember walking and carrying my stool as a child with my family to go sit and watch the open stage Classical Chinese Opera. I (Amar) remember many happy hours spent besides waterfalls, often diving in using a hanging rattan branch.
What is exciting about these paintings is not just that they brighten Ipoh’s back lanes but that Eric often works with children and young people to do the work. It is so refreshing to see the commitment and excitement in these children. He also takes pains not to paint over the walls but to build the art into the stains, vegetation and colour of the existing buildings.
We sincerely hope that the Ipoh City Council and Perak State Government will acknowledge this talented young man and support his work. He is doing much more for tourism than many other initiatives. It is people like him who build our true One Malaysia, that the government should recognise and support strongly. Most of the street art is located in a back lane between Jalan Sultan Iskandar and Jalan Masjid, a location that many may miss. We hope the City Council can put up signs to direct tourists, as well as fund Eric to do art in more prominent locations in the city. It would be great to bring life to other parts of Ipoh City.
To cap it all, Eric has just done a small mural for MH370 as well. He says it is a view of the outside from the passengers’ perspective and speaks of the hope of them coming home.