After Lego mural fiasco, Johor Baru mulls rule-driven graffiti wall

The original Ernest Zacharevic mural in Johor Bahru. Authorities are now considering a special wall for grafitti, albeit with conditions.— Screenshot from the artist's Facebook page
The original Ernest Zacharevic mural in Johor Bahru. Authorities are now considering a special wall for grafitti, albeit with conditions.— Screenshot from the artist's Facebook page

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KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 17 — Johor Baru authorities are considering creating a special graffiti wall to allow street art, albeit subject to their approval, after the debacle over a Lego mural highlighting the problem of crime.

The Johor Baru City Council (MBJB) confirmed today that they are currently looking for a suitable place for the graffiti wall, stressing that the drawings on the wall must not disturb the sensitivities of other races and religions in the multi-cultural country.

“Whoever wants to draw at that special place must get approval from MBJB,” Abdul Aziz Ithnin, MBJB corporate communications and public relations director, told The Malay Mail Online today.

“The pictures that are to be drawn must be suitable for Malaysians...they can’t just draw anything they like. If it’s not suitable, and if school kids see it, that’s not good either,” he added.

He said that the authorities welcomed art that attracted tourists, such as themes of nature, green campaigns and cleanliness education campaigns, among others.

On Wednesday, MBJB painted over a wall mural by Lithuanian-born street artist Ernest Zacharevic in the Johor capital that had featured a knife-wielding Lego man mugger lurking around the corner for a Lego woman carrying a “Chanel” handbag.

Johor is famous for its Legoland Malaysia theme park in Nusajaya.

Singapore daily Straits Times reported Johor police last Wednesday as acknowledging that the state’s capital city remains a crime hotspot, despite the reduction of crime in the southern state near neighbouring Singapore.

ACP Abdul Aziz Ahmad was quoted as saying that 70 per cent of crime in Johor occurs in Johor Bahru, but noted that the crime rate in the state is expected to fall by 7.4 per cent this year to a little more than 17,500 cases, from about 19,000 cases last year. A total of 26,624 crimes were reported in Johor in 2008.

Ironically, a woman’s handbag was snatched on Thursday just metres away from the Lego mural site after the walls were whitewashed.

“Everyone I talked to - no matter what their situation - would say, ‘Take care of yourself and hide your bag’,” Zacharevic was quoted as saying by UK’s BBC News last Wednesday.

MBJB’s Abdul Aziz said today that the Lego mural did not give a good perception of the city.

“People’s perception would not be very good,” he said.

He also stressed that MBJB did not intend to block people’s creativity and said that Johor Baru mayor Ismail Karim had suggested imposing duration limits on murals on the special graffiti wall to allow others a chance to draw there.

“The mayor said we’ll do a study to draw up some laws on this matter. For example, if I were to draw a waterfall, we can leave it for one or two months, then we’ll erase it, and other people can perhaps draw mountains there,” said the MBJB officer.

He also said that MBJB would make a decision on the graffiti wall likely by January.

The authorities had removed the Lego mural despite two local painters adding a Lego police officer with a pair of handcuffs to the mural, in an attempt to make it more acceptable.

Zacharevic made the scene a couple of years ago with a series of wall art in George Town, Penang.

The project was part of the George Town Festival 2012. His wall art including the whimsical “Little Boy with Pet Dinosaur”, poignant “Boy on a Bike” and joyful “Little Children on a Bicycle” continue to draw crowds of people every day.

Zacharevic’s other drawings in Johor Bahru depicts a couple looking at a large “tree” that is actually a patch of green moss on the wall and a water tank around a plastic pipe sticking out of a wall.

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