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The Soul of Padang is on the Streets

A city with graffiti is a city with soul.

The streets on the edge of Padang’s Chinatown are crumbling. The various states of disrepair range from shutters swinging in the wind from a dilapidated window frame, to columns of old red bricks jutting out of the ground, reaching for nowhere, and caressed by creepers and vines.

Formerly ornate façades still show the pride once taken over the area, but the rot seems to be in it for the long haul.

And then you turn a corner, and you are greeted like an intrepid adventurer with some stunning graffiti. Padang comes across as a quaint city by the sea with a nice fishing village attached, not the place where artists congregate to decorate the walls. When viewed in this setting, it shows one of the greatest things about graffiti and street art – its accessibility.

First, and of course; it’s free to see, and it’s not stuck in a big museum which can feel stuffy and daunting. Street art at its most raw is also unpretentious. It’s easy to understand, the ideas are broad and the metaphors are simple. As an example, there is a mural, on the corner of Jalan Batang Arau and an unnamed road, of a bulldozer as a monster razing a playground. Even if you don’t understand the Bahasa Indonesia text included, you can clearly understand the point the artist is making in railing against the destruction of community facilities.

Street art is done for pure desire, rather than any financial gain from the artist (although it does add to a portfolio and reputation for those wanting to get paid for their talents). There is freedom of expression in this form of art, rather than being constrained by a museum curator or the need to fit into a certain style or school of art.

Along Jalan Ps. Borong III you’ll find a stunning piece of work; two elephants meeting around a corner, lovingly intertwining their trunks that burst with colour. There is passion and love in this piece of art that makes you stop and think for a moment. That it sits on a back street of town adds to the beauty because this is probably where that message is most needed.

All of this creativity and expression has been the brainchild of one local man, Zikri Zeek. He is the founder and community force behind the festival Paint Your City, which he founded in 2014. Zikri says,
“The reason for creating Paint Your City is to restore the glory of street art in the city of Padang.” He is a local artist who was looking for a platform for his work and this was a way to bring graffiti to the fore in the city.

In 2014, 12 artists gathered by the railway tracks in Padang and created a mural, each artist having their own distinct section, with each work tied into the next. Zikri says this was a great success and a turning point for graffiti and street art, “from this initial activity, the players of the Padang art scene resurfaced again.” The first event was focused on local talent but over the last five years the festival has gone from strength to strength.

The following year, PYC was attended by artists from all over Indonesia, and over the last six festivals there have been over five hundred participants from all over the world, including Australia, Germany, New Zealand, and Puerto Rico. So important has PYC become to the local community, the most recent event in March 2019 was in collaboration with the local general election committee.

Zikri explains that he worked with the local KPU, aiming to highlight the success of the recent general election. Ideas of fake news, sensationalism, nationalism, and civic pride were explored on the walls surrounding a community sports facility in the biggest celebration of art in the city.

A city with graffiti is a city with soul. It shows that there are people willing to express themselves for the sake of it, ready to push boundaries, and challenge, and sometimes subvert, a society’s mainstream ideas. “Before 2006, it was very difficult for graffiti to be accepted by the community, because it was considered vandalism,” says Zikri, echoing sentiments of many street artists around the world. “But we have consistently proved that graffiti can be accepted in public spaces, society, and even by government!” he continues.

Indeed, the reputation of street art has been rehabilitated in the last 20 odd years. The likes of Banksy turned what was once regarded as a nuisance into a valid art form that had real value. In years gone by, owners of the walls and shop fronts that would get tagged or painted would spend time and effort to clean it off, whereas now some places even pay an artist to graffiti them.

The support in the community for PYC has extended to the proprietors of the buildings being decorated, “the building owners are all co-operative and always support our work,” Zikri assures. It seems intuitive to support such works by those who own the walls, it brings people to the area which, in the case of Chinatown in Padang, could well bring about revitalisation of the run-down area. Usually, where art explores, people follow.

YouTube and Instagram are the homes for the collection of graffiti and street art created through Paint Your City. The videos that document the festivals, the artists, and their creations show the evolution from the twelve artists and one wall back in 2014, to a massive mural on a bridge in 2016, and the recent election inspired event at the sports fields. The Instagram account @padanggraffitiunited hosts a range of pieces from the festival and other murals by local artists.

In Zikri’s own words, “Padang, even though it is a small city… has a big artistic movement that is extraordinary.” For art lovers, a trip to Padang seems almost necessary and a follow of their Instagram page will ensure you get to know about the next Paint Your City festival that Zikri has in the making.

Images: Instagram account of @padanggraffitiunited

See: Nasi Padang: Indonesia’s Most Wanted Food

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