In the quiet and sleepy street of Jalan Roberts at the capital, a massive change has happened. 

The small street is an iconic piece of history for most Bruneians, a symbol of a bygone era with buildings that date back decades such as the Panggong Borneo which was built in the 1950s. 

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

Now, Jalan Roberts has been given new life, brightened with quite literally, a coat of new paint. The most significant glow-up however, came with what was once a barren and empty wall off the side of the BIBD Ar-Rahnu building located at the street’s end.  

Image: Zaim Kasmat

There a new icon awaits, a majestic 30 metre mural dubbed “The Big Wall”, the largest mural in Brunei Darussalam, consisting of a series of art pieces designed and created by Guerilla Artchitects (GA).

The massive mural is part of the pedestrianisation project of Jalan Roberts which was spearheaded by the government, in an effort to further beautify the nation’s capital and features the works of ten talented local artists. 

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

Six of them; Nerd1nk, Wicked01, Spazy, Si Kuno, Madnycer and Budione fall under GA’s team of graffiti artists while the remaining four, Leeq One, Miqdame, Mags and Larvsh, represented independents that were friends of the company. 

A wealth of culture and inspiration

Standing at approximately 30 metres tall and 14 metres wide, The Big Wall is an amalgamation of several iconic aspects of the sultanate. 

From the ‘Bunga Menjalar’ patterns, the national flower, the Bunga Simpur to the monochrome landscape of the city, the mural holds what is essential ‘Bruneian’ for each artist. 

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

Grafitti artist, Ariff Suhaimi (Budione) said that he drew inspiration from one of the iterations of Brunei’s $50 note, namely the national flower Bunga Simpur being interwoven with the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid.

With the Bunga Simpur representing the government and the Vanda Miss Joaquim representing the private sector, Ariff explained that “the flowers symbolizes the flourishing friendship and collaboration between the government and the private sector”. 

Image: Zaim Kasmat

The mural also features an art piece called the “Seven Padian” at the building’s adjacent floor, where each padian represents the seven indigenous groups of Brunei: the Bruneian Malay, Kedayan, Murut, Tutong, Belait, Dusun and Bisaya.

For invited artist Noorfitriah Hassan of Larvsh, she chose Tutong as her artistic muse for the Padian art piece, having been surrounded by the culture growing up. 

“Tutong is famous for their ‘adat basuh kaki’ and in the mural we included the bunga kertas, tajau, gayong, pemarang and asah-asahan to represent the culture,” she explained.

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

Throughout the journey of developing the mural, the artists ensured that the art piece would do justice to the local landmarks, hoping to capitalise on the relatable Bruneian images to convey a sense of optimism to onlookers.

The mural took 30 days to complete, but the process was not as quick. Due to the magnitude of the mural which involved great heights, all of the participating artists had to be certified to be working on higher grounds. 

The evolution of Guerilla Artchitects

From the walls to abandoned buses, Guerilla Artchitects have always found ways to help struggling artists of any medium to express their creativity and also to educate the public on street art.

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

Essentially GA wanted to become a platform for artists to receive exposure for their street art, murals and also as a means to connect with other artists.

The name Guerilla Artchitects was first coined in 1999 by one of the pioneer graffiti artists known within the local community, Madsuki (also known as Tycal). 

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

It was in 2018 where he gave his blessing to a newer generation of graffiti artists to use the name Guerrilla Artchitects (GA) as their brand.

The studio’s mission is to make an impact with street art in the Sultanate while also providing access and inclusion for local artists.

The studio’s manager and artist Zaim Norzairi, also known as Spazy, understood that many local artists, not only graffiti artists, have faced many challenges when it comes to recognition in the country.

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

For him, “The Big Wall” served as a recognition for all their hard work and resilience and also represented an important milestone for the development of GA.

Image: Fazizul Haqimie

“It takes a village to bring our vision on paper to life,” he shared, adding, “if you look through our sketches and compare it to the real thing, it is almost the same”.

The milestone also reflects the changes in perception of street art, how it evolved from what was originally thought of as an act of vandalism to now being recognised as an art form, he continued.

“People are starting to trust us (graffiti artists) and have stopped seeing us as vandals,” Zaim went on to say. 

As for the future, the founders of the organisation have expressed optimism in the big plans for their up-and-coming projects and are committed to producing more murals around Brunei Darussalam. 

This article was first published on February 23, 2021 in our National Day Supplement 2021

THE BRUNEIAN | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN

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