Thursday, 16 December 2010

The artist behind the Yasmin Ahmad graffiti.

I don't know how it happened, or what really went down. But all I know is, he committed suicide and now he's gone forever. The physics of the world seem terribly unfair to take away so many good people in such a short amount of time - Mister Benjamin, Mr Ananth... And less than two years after the death of my favourite filmmaker, Yasmin Ahmad, the talented artist who immortalised her in street graffiti has now passed on as well.

His name was Jeng. He was our main interviewee in the documentary my journalism team did last year on street graffiti in Kuala Lumpur.

I remember our day trip to graffiti hot spots with Jeng and Snozze. I remember how nervous I was to meet them. I remember shaking their hands. They were very friendly, friendlier than the nervous me might've been.

There was a point in the night where I had to wait in the car with Jeng, and I braced myself for awkward silence. But he was great, he started asking me about school and what I do for work. We started talking about Your Shopping Kaki. He seemed genuinely interested, and even told me about his close friend Huang who was running a blogshop. Huang and Ying of Milktee later became one of my long-standing advertisers.

If it weren't for the documentary I was working on, I don't think I would ever have met him. I only got the opportunity to work with the artists thanks to Jin Hackman a.k.a. Tang Eu-Jin, my teammate. I felt like one day shadowing Jeng and his fellow artist was like a parallel lifetime of learning. Jeng, he was inspiring. He foresaw a future for graffiti in Malaysia, he fought for it. He was really something special.

It's true what they say about an artist's value going up when they are gone. I suddenly feel like the video is all that's left of what I can learn from him. I'm grateful I still have his photographs. I can't publish them online because his identity has to remain anonymous to be protected - graffiti is not exactly legal in Malaysia - but I feel like as long as we remember him, and remember his work, have a piece of it with us, his legacy lives on.

I'm sorry I never learnt his real name. :( Update: I ran a search on Facebook and found his real name, and this blog entry by another local artist (Jeng's crewmate) with the information about Jeng's suicide: *click here*