Written by Smek Almodhzar
“As you can see, it has changed a lot,” referring to how his works around downtown Kuala Lumpur has canvassed the city. In recent years, the city council has started to spruce up downtown; beautifying backlanes and city streets, engaging artists to paint bright, vibrant works of art on heritage buildings.
“Appreciation for Kuala Lumpur has made a comeback. I also appreciate Urbanscapes trying to make downtown Kuala Lumpur a place for locals again, bringing back local culture. We’ve seen Ipoh and Penang do the same; Kuala Lumpur’s a bit late to the game. That’s f’d up. Everyone comes to the city first; it’s a place to look for your rezeki
From being the first artist to design Red Bull cans, to collaborating with OBEY Clothing on a limited-edition tee collection, to painting the colourful, larger-than-life Kiehl’s mural on Jalan Tun H.S. Lee – FriTillDea, an abbreviation of Friends Till Death, whose real name is Mohd. Anuar, has roots in graffiti.
And roots are important to him.
“My favourite thing about Kuala Lumpur is it’s a centre; it’s like the Kaaba. We need to be our own Kaaba. I don’t mean to say that it’s Kaaba literally – but it’s a centre point. It’s a place where everyone gathers, and we can make something happen, bad or good,” he said.
“In those days when a person from Kelantan comes to Kuala Lumpur for the first time, where do they go? Pudu Raya, because it’s in downtown. You don’t ask your friend to meet you in Selayang, that’s way out. Those days, you can only meet in Kuala Lumpur, and that’s why you love the city so much.”
A self-taught artist hailing from Gombak, he first started with doodles; he would repeatedly draw the same thing until eventually, he would get sick of it. In his early 20s, he began dabbling in street art, stenciling drawings around the city under the moniker Box Head
. His fascination with murals grew, and so did his fame – and the rest, as they say, is history.
To FriTillDea, Kuala Lumpur is one big gallery. “When you see an artwork on the streets, you stop. This artwork is lovely
, you say, and some aunty replies, yes, this is from a local artist
. A conversation starts.”
“I’m definitely not the first guy to paint murals in Kuala Lumpur. I had the opportunity to do it because I have a name, because I’m known. Now here, we see that murals are picking up again – but it’s boring if people only see my art, because I want to see artworks other than mine,” he said.
“Before murals, I started off doing graffiti – it’s illegal – so there was that risk. I don’t want youngsters taking that risk. Let’s give them walls!”
“Don’t evaluate artists too much on their success. If they’re good, give them a chance. Maybe next year, Urbanscapes can provide a wall for these artists. I’ve just been lucky,” he said, humbly.
We took a walk down memory lane. “The Odeon cinema, I used to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
there!” He has memories of downtown Kuala Lumpur with his family.
“Even though it was fasting month, my dad told me, Kalau kau tak puasa, kau tak dapat baju Raya
. I prefer walking in Kuala Lumpur; because family aku takde kereta
, so I got my dad his first car, but I still like to walk in the city without complaints, and I owe it to my dad.”
When asked about how the city inspired his art, FriTillDea replied, “I’m not gonna play safe by going down the this is Kuala Lumpur, so aku nak lukis Bangunan Sultan Abdul Samad lah
route. We’re in Kuala Lumpur. It’s already there! Show them something new, something fresh! I mean, we have restrictions – but that’s the challenge you need to accept, to take up as an artist. Don’t blame these limitations by pointing fingers, saying kerajaan tak kasi aku lukis tu, lukis ni.
Be creative. I want Kuala Lumpur to be creative.”
“If KL was a person, it would be the late Sudirman. He staged a free concert in Chow Kit back in the day, and that’s giving back to the people. Siapa lagi berani buat macam tu
? Nobody, bro!” FriTillDea answered with gusto.
FriTillDea is one of the artists commissioned by Urbanscapes for NIPPON PAINT presents Colours of Life, a public art installation aimed at bringing colour to the city. Suzy Sulaiman, whose artworks tend to engage with the public sphere and physical context, as well as Hanisah Johari and Ahmad Syahmi – who make up Condiment Strings, an exploration of colourful art installations through macrame strings – are also on the artist lineup for NIPPON PAINT presents Colours Of Life, which exhibits from 16 until 24 November.