Street Art in Kota Kinabalu

This post talks about two special street art concepts of Kota Kinabalu –Vanishing Wall and Pillars of Sabah 2.0.

Cities which boast of gigantic murals and colorful walls, immediately allure me and make way to my heart. My recent crush happens to be a cute little city in the Borneo Island, where the walls not only welcomed me with animal street art but also spoke for a greater cause of wildlife conservation. I am talking about Kota Kinabalu, the city which gets its name from the highest mountain of Sabah, Mount Kinabalu. KK as the locals call it, appealed to me as a very endearing and easy-going city. It had just the right kind of small elements, cultural warmth, modern propensity, proximity to nature and wealth of old world charm that is required for a soulful holiday. And of course, the street art got my heart!

Sabah, state of East Malaysia, had been on my mind for a long time and I am super glad that I got a chance to go there. I clearly remember the first ride from the Kota Kinabalu airport to the Grandis Hotel, where I stayed for 5 days. The window seat gave me a chance to draw my first impression of the city and I was gladly taken in by the sweet spots of wall art. I couldn’t wait to see what Sabahan artists had to show me. And trust me, I couldn’t have asked better when my guide told me that our hotel was placed right across ‘Pillars of Sabah‘, a ruin of a nearly 100 years old British Colonial building which had been turned into a graffiti corner. As I checked in my room, I had the view of the ‘Vanishing Wall’ on the right. Allow me to take you around and introduce you to the vibrant murals there.

Street art in Kota Kinabalu
The most instagrammable pose in on the walls in Kota Kinabalu!

Street art trail in Kota Kinabalu
Just opposite Suria Mall in Kota Kinabalu

Local shops in Kota Kinabalu
Outside one of the local houses!

Street Art in Kota Kinabalu

Looking around for random art may sound boring to some but trust me that is one of the best things that a city offers. If you have been reading my blogs or following me on social media, you would know that I am a hardcore street art lover. Over the last few years, I have fallen in love with this whole concept of discovering a city through its painted walls. I feel this is the way that the local artists speak about the character of their city, the issues and the social changes that they are looking at. Look at these murals in Kota Kinabalu and you will know what I mean.

How a ruined building became Pillars of Sabah!
Pillars of Sabah A great way to put life in a ruined space!

Pillars of Sabah 2.0 is a very interesting concept!
The pillars speak for the endangered species!

30 threatened animals found in Sabah are portrayed here.

‘Pillars of Sabah 2.0’

It is a very nice initiative to give a new life to the ruins, make it a colorful place by educating the people around wildlife. When I saw the pillars from a distance, I could only see some colorful drawings but when I went close, I noticed that some very interesting work has been done on each of them and the walls around. It is extremely educative. I was impressed to learn that this art project that has been taken up by local artists to talk about 30 endangered and threatened wildlife species of Sabah. Not only the species but some relative information has been painted very diligently on the pillars. As I went through them, I actually learned about so many new species that I dint even know about. This also strengthened my believe that art can actually bring a lot of good change. This place is right in the center of a busy street and attracts attention from a number of locals and tourists. I am sure it must have changed the attitude of some people towards wildlife and environment compassion.

I took my pictures when I was there but when I came back, I read about it more. It was good to know that the art project was brain-child of a creative gang, made of film-maker Jared Abdul Rahman, designer Melissa Lo and artist Red Hong Yi. The place where it has been done used to be a Land and Survey building. They say that it survived the World War II bombings but lost to a fire. What is left of it are some 30 odd pillars. And together they make a great place for something so creative and innovative like this. This is called as ‘Pillars of Sabah 2.0’ as there was a previous version too launched in 2018. That had some personalities of Sabah. But I really liked this one which talks about the real assets of Borneo, its endemic species.

The art work features Black-Headed Pitta, Hornbill, Proboscis monkey,Clouded Leopard, Hawkbill Turtle, Green Turtle, Sun bear, Irrawady dolphins, North Borneo Gibbon, Corals, Bornean Bay Cat, Bornean Bristlehead, Banteng and more.

‘Vanishing Wall’

Every day I would see this wall from my room but I had packed schedule so I couldn’t go close. On the last day, I woke up early and ensured that I made it there before my flight. And I am glad I did that. This one also had a similar theme on wildlife of Sabah but was done very differently. The art and depiction was more assertive. It emphasized more on how the wildlife and tribal culture were getting affected by ignorance, neglect, intrusion and greed of humans.

Vanishing Wall’ by Kenji Chai takes street art to a new level by questioning our conscience and showing us the truth. The artists have used a satirical way to showcase man’s greed. There is an elephant, a sunbear, a proboscis monkey, a rhinoceros and many others shown on the wall and also that how Sabah’s wildlife is running away from greedy and evil businessman. It was quite a hard hitting message.Vanishing Wall also means that how some of the old buildings are vanishing in the city.

Vanishing Wall!

Vanishing wall!
The evil businessman who is scaring the animals!

As I went around and observed each and every painting, I felt connected and affected with the art work. Even now, when I sit down to reflect, I realize that the paintings said so much. We humans really need to mend our ways and protect our geology, nature and beauty. Just when I thought the street art work was over, I found more behind this wall. These were some really funny ones!!

Other quirky works!

The city must be applauded for it other graffiti and murals too. There were many that I found. I really appreciate this free form of expression. There should be more communities which use art to make a change. You may get a glimpse of some of them in the video below!

Wall Art got me thinking!

Art can really be very powerful if used rightly. I am glad it made me think and I have come back more conscious, more aware and more concerned about Borneo and its endangered species. In fact other places should also use art a medium to propagate positive ideas and social changes. Well done Kota Kinabalu!

Proboscis monkey borneo
Proboscis monkey is endemic to Borneo

Written by

Manjulika Pramod

An engineer who loves to be called a blogger more!
Traveler, short-story writer, voracious reader, foodie is the better me!
Reading, eating, traveling, exploring, observing and blogging are the beautiful highs of my life.