Sabahan mural artist draws from jungle upbringing for inspiration


Rajimin’s mural art tells colourful stories. Photos: The Star/Azlina Abdullah

Art has been more than just a livelihood for muralist and illustrator Rajimin Kontak, 35. During the pandemic, art became his lifeline – it was a refuge, helping him battle his anxiety and restoring balance to his life, especially during the first movement control order in March 2020.

“Before the pandemic, I worked as a videographer and photographer and I was a mural artist on the side. But during the MCO, I couldn’t earn an income as a videographer/photographer due to business closures and government restrictions.

“It was really tough, and I went through so much stress. I also struggled to cope with being confined indoors, financial instability, and social isolation from the MCO restrictions.

“All these contributed to my fears and feelings of anxiety,” recalled Rajimin, who lives in Puncak Alam, Shah Alam in Selangor.

‘I love my work because it allows me to express my creativity and showcase it to the world,’ says Rajimin.‘I love my work because it allows me to express my creativity and showcase it to the world,’ says Rajimin.

The Sabahan, who holds a Bachelor degree in graphic design from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) in Shah Alam, decided to tap into his painting and illustration skills to earn an income at the time.

“I had to make ends meet to pay my bills. I began sketching and creating artwork to sell online, and luckily a few companies purchased my art on social media platforms. After the MCO, I slowly started to receive jobs as a mural artist,” said Rajimin, who was born and raised in Lahad Datu, Sabah.

To help him with his anxiety, he also adopted two stray cats for companionship during the lonely pandemic days.

Apek the cat is Rajimin’s ‘purr-fect’ partner as he creates his art.Apek the cat is Rajimin’s ‘purr-fect’ partner as he creates his art.

“During the pandemic, I sought counselling for my mental health issues. The counsellor suggested having a pet to help alleviate anxiety.

“Around that time, I came across two undernourished stray cats in my neighbourhood. I took them in, nursed them back to health, and they became my companions.

“Simply petting or playing with them brings me a sense of calm,” said Rajimin, as he stroked his black and white cat, Apek.

Rajimin is among many who struggled with mental health issues like anxiety, depression and emotional disorders during the pandemic. Thankfully, he sought treatment to overcome his anxiety.

'I like the idea of transforming ordinary wall spaces into vibrant art pieces,' says Rajimin. Photo: Rajimin Kontak'I like the idea of transforming ordinary wall spaces into vibrant art pieces,' says Rajimin. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

“Many people are scared to talk about mental health problems because they worry about being seen as ‘weird’ or mentally unwell. But it’s okay to seek treatment if you’re feeling anxious or depressed.

“Talking to my counsellor, spending time with my cats and focusing on art have all helped me feel much better and more confident,” said Rajimin, who is currently pursuing a master’s degree in visual communication and new media at UiTM.

The bigger picture

Since the pandemic, the muralist has created over 50 murals across in Malaysia. His artwork decorates the walls of cafes, nurseries, art galleries, veterinary clinics, and the exteriors of buildings in Kuching, Johor Baru, and the Klang Valley.

'Through my art, I hope to leave a lasting impact on communities,' says Rajimin. Photo: Rajimin Kontak'Through my art, I hope to leave a lasting impact on communities,' says Rajimin. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

“For murals, most of the work is done based on client requests and current trends. I enjoy painting murals because I can make walls come alive with stories,” he said.

“On average, it takes between five and seven days to create a 3m x 6m-sized mural on the exterior of a building.

“Painting large-scale murals often entails long hours of standing, and working on scaffolding or ladders, which can be physically demanding.

“Additionally, working under the hot sun is draining. Despite these challenges, I love my job because it allows me to express my creativity and show it to the world,” said the jovial chap, whose work can be seem on his Instagram account.

Rajimin working on an outdoor art and mural project. Photo: Rajimin Kontak Rajimin working on an outdoor art and mural project. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

Rajimin’s mural art tells colourful stories, often featuring people, abstract patterns, themes from nursery rhymes, and scenes from nature. He uses weatherbond paint for his mural art which are often vibrant.

One of Rajimin’s most popular murals can be seen at Jalan Kiambang in Banting, Selangor where he captured the essence of the town’s agricultural heritage, particularly pineapple farming in his art. The smallest mural he’s worked on is 1.5m x 2.4m.

“I like the idea of transforming ordinary wall spaces into vibrant art pieces. I also enjoy the challenge of working with diverse surfaces. Through my art, I hope to leave a lasting impact on communities,” said Rajimin, who works with two friends – who are also freelance artists – on these commissioned works.

Rocky road to success

While Rajimin is gradually making a name for himself in the art world, there was a time when he didn’t even think he would make it through secondary school due to poverty.

Raised in a remote area near a jungle around Lahad Datu, he remembers an impoverished childhood where his family didn’t even have access to running water or electricity.

Rajimin’s childhood was spent in poverty, living in a basic home close to the jungle near Lahad Datu, Sabah. Photo: Rajimin KontakRajimin’s childhood was spent in poverty, living in a basic home close to the jungle near Lahad Datu, Sabah. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

“I didn’t get to experience pre-school and I grew up without neighbours. We didn’t have a proper toilet in our wooden home. We used kerosene lamps for light, and we bathed using well water.

“We were so poor that our daily diet comprised of cassava (tapioca) and sambal belacan. Eating fish and chicken were considered a luxury,” he said.

“Growing up, we would see wild animals like the clouded leopard, elephants and mouse deer, as our home was close to the Tabin Wildlife Reserve in Lahad Datu,” shared Rajimin, the youngest of five siblings.

Each day, he would have to walk for close to two hours just to reach the main road from where he and his siblings would catch a town bus to school.

“I used to wake up at 3am to get ready for school. My mother would accompany us to school. We’d leave the house at 4am, contending with darkness and rough roads to reach the main road.

“Walking to school became a routine for me right until I finished secondary school,” recalled the former arts student from SM Silabukan in Lahad Datu.

Rajimin (left) believes that education is key to improving the lives of students. Photo: Rajimin Kontak Rajimin (left) believes that education is key to improving the lives of students. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

Life presented numerous challenges, often causing Rajimin to contemplate dropping out of school.

“I grew up in poverty, where education wasn’t a top priority. Many times, my father pressured me to quit school to help him on the farm. However, it was my mother’s support and encouragement that fuelled my determination to pursue my studies.

“Ibu wanted me to be the first graduate in the family. After completing high school, I pursued a diploma in graphic design at UiTM based on my achievement of getting an A in art for my Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia.

“Later, I went on to pursue my degree in graphic design. Ibu is very proud that I’m pursuing my master’s degree now,” said Rajimin, with a wide grin.

His parents currently live in Kampung Long Danau, which is a 30-minute drive from Lahad Datu.

Using art to tell his story

Rajimin's monochrome illustrations sheds light on the plight of Sabah's stateless kids who don't have access to education. Photo: Rajimin KontakRajimin's monochrome illustrations sheds light on the plight of Sabah's stateless kids who don't have access to education. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

Apart from his mural art, Rajimin also does monochrome illustrations which he uses to shed light on the plight of underprivileged children, particularly addressing the challenges they face due to poverty and limited access to education.

“I’m a living example that even with disadvantages, one can succeed if given the chance. I believe in hard work and fate.

“My heart goes out to Sabah’s Bajau Laut stateless children who don’t have access to education and basic healthcare.”

In the last four years, Rajimin has been spreading hope among underprivileged children in Lahad Datu and the stateless children from Pulau Semporna through his motivational speeches.

Rajimin is passionate about helping underprivileged kids. Photo: Rajimin KontakRajimin is passionate about helping underprivileged kids. Photo: Rajimin Kontak

Additionally, he has conducted workshops on video presenting skills for rural communities in Miri, Sarawak, organised by Sarawak’s International Trade and E-Commerce Ministry.

“I am very grateful for the blessings received, as I never thought I would come this far. I see this achievement as a responsibility to be an example to my nephew, nieces and the community in Lahad Datu.

“My advice is if given the opportunity to learn and acquire knowledge, do your best. And if you fail, it is not the end because we each have unique roles. Higher education is not a symbol of success.

“Instead, we must see it as a process to mature and shape our thinking,” he concludes.


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