ARTWORKS, some 70 of them, have added colour to Seremban lanes and alleys that were previously considered “unremarkable”, and are fast attracting their fair share of fans.
Dubbed Sabar (Street Art Back Alley Re-enhancement), the pilot back lane beautification project includes several streets – Jalan Dato Sheikh Ahmad, Jalan Dato Lee Fong Yee and Jalan Tunku Hassan – that cut across the Negri Sembilan capital’s main arteries of Jalan Tuanku Munawir and Jalan Dato Bandar Tunggal.
Spearheaded by Seremban Municipal Council (MPS), the project began in June and is nearing completion with about 90% of the work done.
A six-man team of artists, led by Ejad Ali, have been commissioned by the council and can be seen working under the scorching sun as they put the finishing touches to their masterpieces on walls and even roads.
The works of art range from colourful sketches measuring 1.5m by 1.8m to dramatic 6.1m-wide and 12.2m-high scenes covering entire walls, as well as large eye-catching designs painted on the road.
Among the pieces that now embellish the formerly grubby walls is Tin Mining Sungai Ujong – one of the project’s larger works and a nod to Seremban’s roots as a town that flourished on the back of the tin trade.
The tin mining district that grew to become Seremban was known as Sungai Ujong in the 1800s.
Ejad, 57, said the bulk of designs were inspired by local icons, historical figures and the trades that have traditionally occupied the buildings along Lorong Seni.
“The council came up with the initial designs that we improvised on where necessary.
“Some of the designs like Tin Mining Sungai Ujong, for example, had to be scaled up for impact. A smaller version of the same mural would not have had the same appeal, ” he said.
Existing elements such as water pipes, hydrants, air-conditioning units, vents and windows were also integrated into the designs, lending them a realistic 3D effect.
Ejad, who runs his own business, said his favourite piece so far was one he dubbed “Crouching Lions, Hidden Dragon”, depicting two vibrantly coloured lions and a Chinese dragon amid lush painted on foliage.
“That piece has turned the back wall of an abandoned pre-war building into an eye-catching work of art.“That’s the objective of the project – to transform the unsightly into something beautiful, ” he said.
The murals pay homage to historical icons and local heroes, too.
These include the late Malay Regiment hero Sergeant Hassan Othman, who was born in Kampung Pantai near here and whose brave exploits were the subject of the popular P. Ramlee-starrer Sarjan Hassan.
On a wall behind a bank, one image that makes passers-by do a double take is the imposing figure of a Sikh guard in the full garb of the British colonial police who appears to be guarding an ATM alongside his Caucasian counterpart.
Sari-clad Indian women balancing earthenware pots, Malay tarian lilin dancers, and a kampung scene featuring a family making dodol are images that celebrate culture and tradition.
For Ejad whose family hails from Negri Sembilan, the project is a labour of love and his way of giving back to the town.
The art lover and his team previously worked on the back lane beautification project in Jalan Alor, Kuala Lumpur.
“People often have negative opinion about alleys, so it is very fulfilling to watch the transformation taking place.
“The alleys have now been cleaned up, the drainage upgraded, and the area is also brightly lit – no more dingy lanes, ” he said.
It takes the artists a day to complete smaller pieces like road designs while large-scale murals can take up to two weeks.
Before the murals could be painted, Ejad said the walls had to be blasted clean with a high-pressure water jet and defects had to be fixed and plastered.
“We used high-quality paint to withstand the elements for years. We even applied protective coatings to the road designs to ensure they do not fade.
“As long as the road is not resurfaced, the paintings should last, ” he said.
Tea stall owner Abu Llais, who plies his trade in a back lane along Jalan Dato Sheikh Ahmad, said his regular customers loved it and he also made new customers.
“I have been operating here for eight years but I have never seen so many people frequent this alley, especially to take photos of the murals, ” he said.
Store employee Miza Mohd Ali, 26, said the local council’s effort to transform the back lanes was a good initiative.
“I am from Shah Alam and we have a Jalan Seni there. I am so happy that Seremban too has its own Lorong Seni now. It is a wonderful idea to clean up the alleys and attract visitors, ” she said.
For 79-year-old Guok Boh Chio, who runs a backstreet stamping business, the improvements were a welcome boon for local business owners and a great way to revive interest in old streets.
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