Trending: Ernest Zacharevic, Malaysia’s answer to Banksy

By BBC Trending
What’s popular and why
13 November 2013 Last updated at 18:40

Malaysia has its own version of Banksy – street artist Ernest Zacharevic. His latest piece of work, which highlights the problem of crime, has been painted over by the authorities – but not before being widely shared on social media.

Across the water from wealthy Singapore is the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, known as one of the country’s crime hot spots. Late last Thursday evening, 27-year-old street artist Ernest Zacharevic was at work on a wall there with his spray can. Zacharevic is from Lithuania but is a permanent resident of Malaysia, and is well-known in the region for his street art.

The mural he painted that night depicts a Lego woman carrying an expensive Chanel bag with a knife-wielding mugger Lego man lurking around the corner (the Lego reference can be explained by the fact that Malaysia’s branch of Legoland is also in Johor).

The image rapidly became a hit on Facebook. “Pictures speak a thousand words of truth,” reads one of the comments. Tens of thousands of people have “liked” or shared it. Many have added their stories of muggings and vented frustration at the police.

This was exactly the reaction the artist had intended. “My paintings are always a response to whatever social environment I get exposed to,” Zacharevic told the BBC. “I noticed many people just feel extremely unsafe. Everyone I talked to – no matter what their situation – would say, ‘Take care of yourself and hide your bag.'”

Local officials didn’t see the funny side and six days on, they sent workers to paint over it. “We cannot simply allow people to come and paint murals on the wall,” Abdul Aziz at Johor Bahru City Council told the BBC. He insists crime rates are actually falling in the city, thanks to measures like improved street lighting.

The whitewashing of the walls happened despite an attempt by two local artists to make it more acceptable by adding a policeman about to handcuff the mugger to the mural.

Many on social media have been playing around with the image of the mural online too – adding flowers and other twists to it. One person has even posted an image suggesting a reproduction of the mural may have been re-painted back on the same wall – though it’s unclear if this is genuine.

Reporting by Lucy Proctor

  1. #2 by undertaker888 on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 7:33 am

    With all the publicities now, don’t our brown nazis think this will hurt tourism and investment even more? We are waiting any minute now for the brown nazis to yell, “Strip his permanent residency.". That’s their usual standard reply.

  2. #3 by lee tai king (previously dagen) on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 8:51 am

    Huh? Crime?
    What crime?

    Now you see it.
    Now you DONT!

    Endless Possibilities.
    Unlimited Stupidities.

    • #4 by Di Shi Jiu on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 11:40 am

      lee tai king,

      “Endless Possibilities.
      Unlimited Stupidities.”

      Hey!! That has a nice ring to it. :)

      It even rhymes well.

  3. #5 by Sallang on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 9:37 am

    What they are doubtful, they ban it.
    Tattoo is art, but some symbols cannot be drawn on your body.
    Graffiti is an offence, like in Spore, a man was caned. However, if properly done, it does brightens up the pale white mouldy wall.
    Although the picture depicts ‘crime’, I think if you were to ask a primary child to draw ‘robber’ and ‘police’. It would look like that.
    However, had the authorities think otherwise, it actually also means, safety campaign. ‘Don’t walk alone’.
    Robbery can take place just about everywhere, not only in Johore. By adding the picture of the policeman had actually change the meaning to, ‘You are safe’.
    My conclusion is, the authorities are being defensive and had over reacted in haste, without much thought.

  4. #6 by Sallang on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 9:55 am

    Malaysia was a very very peaceful country, ONCE UPON A TIME, because we were all Malaysians.
    The authorities still believe that our country is still , ONCE UPON A TIME, BAD Image, but they forgot that they had imported millions of foreigners over the years, that had change the social fabric of the country.
    Many of these foreigners were being cheated of their life savings, some borrowed money to come here, where they were promised gold everywhere.
    No face or money to return to their families,so just for survival, CRIME is the only way out. After all many are holding ‘Fake’ MyCards. Go to jail also can have 3 meals.

  5. #7 by sheriff singh on Friday, 15 November 2013 - 11:03 am

    You want to know why the JB City Council whitewashed the offending mural in double quick time? Really ?

    It was because a furious First Lady woman was offended as the shorty girl-woman in the mural carrying that expensive Channel handbag, wearing that expensive ring on her fingers and having that humongous orangutan hairdo, and who was about to be mugged, looked too much like her.

    So this FL made a furious phone call to the mayor to have the mural removed at once or else !!

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