One of the most lasting memories Bruneians have of the 1999 Southeast Asian (SEA) Games is the adorable image of young His Royal Highness Prince ‘Abdul Mateen waving the national flag dressed as Awang Budiman.
Awang Budiman was the official mascot of the historic sporting game in Brunei with HRH walking side by side with it around the national stadium – a nostalgic image that still lives on.
The character was donning the traditional Malay silat attire bearing the colours of Brunei’s national flag; yellow top, black pants, red dastar and red cloth belt that wraps around its waist along with a keris.
Ask a Bruneian about the beloved mascot and you can see nostalgia in their eyes.
Be it shooting hoops or scoring a hole-in-one in golf, Awang Budiman has had an amazing sports portfolio and played 21 different sports since his debut at the sporting game over 20 years ago.
His role as Brunei’s sports icon continues to aspire the youth of today taking on different roles.
Awang Budiman in perspectives
Guerilla Artchitects, a local art studio and shop, recently displayed some 34 bright and colourful artworks of the mascot in an exhibition, produced by youth aged between 17 and 40.
The gallery entitled “The Budiman Exhibition” featured a fresh selection of original artworks that evoke memories of the childhood hero.
“Awang Budiman represents the youth of our country. Over the years even after the SEA games, people are still drawing Awang Budiman,” said the studio’s manager and artist Zaim Norzairi who is also known as Spazy.
He further said that the beloved character spans from generation to generation as a youth icon that played a huge part in Bruneians’ childhood.
“We grew up with Awang Budiman and over the years the icon grew up becoming a Lego character, an astronaut and a zombie, among others,” said the 30-year-old.
“The idea behind hosting the Budiman exhibition is to gather years of ideas of local artists’ own interpretation of the Awang Budiman.”
He added that for the exhibition, Guerilla Artchitect is trying to encourage local artists to embrace their roles as their own storytellers and what is “Awang Budiman” meant to them.
For Zaim, the artist fondly recalls the unforgettable image of the mascot – it was an image on every souvenir from pencil cases to coffee mugs as well as car stickers.
In his artwork title “The Budi-Bomber Architects”, which represents each of Guerrilla Architect’s resident’s signature character, he worked mostly with bold, bright colors in swirls and vector shapes.
When asked about the inspiration behind the artwork, he said: “When you find the people who share the same passion, those are the people who inspire you.”
The artist whose exposure to art began early in life said that the exhibition aimed to lend a fresh perspective on the classic character and make it accessible to a larger audience.
As one walked through the exhibition, a section was filled with childhood images done by students from Katok Secondary School.
There were line-ups that depicted Awang Budiman paired with the artist’s nostalgia as well as cartoon characters such as Doraemon, Tom and Jerry and Spongebob dressed as Awang Budiman.
For the piece titled ‘Oddverse’ by Azim Bahar, he combined Mickey Mouse and Awang Budiman which portrayed his childhood and adolescence.
The first thing that came into Azim’s mind when asked about Awang Budiman is patriotism.
“Awang Budiman represents the national philosophy of Brunei which is Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB),” he said.
The self-taught artist’s style is heavily influenced by the New York-based artist, Brian Donelly who is also known as KAWS.
Inspired by the power of the charismatic mascot, Syahim Syahwan Suhail dreamed up Awang Budiman in a form of a heroic figure.
Syahim said his artwork was inspired by the Malayan warrior Hang Tuah. The strong portrait would captivate viewers to the character’s solid stance and commanding a heroic presence.
His artwork combined the colour of Awang Budiman and the depiction of Hang Tuah, both of which signified the strength of Brunei as a country.
The project designer strives to keep its culture and history alive in his art pieces.
Often, the artwork on display at the exhibition carries a strong social message on subjects such as obesity and technology, among others.
Artist Mad Nycer in an interview said that he was worried about the rising obesity in the sultanate where he portrayed a cartoonish image of an overweight Budiman holding a large cup of sugary drink in one hand and a chicken drumstick.
The “Big Budiman” character that he made represents the junk-food culture and the alarming increase in the obesity rate in the Sultanate
“When it comes to art, I prefer to have a message behind my work. Sometimes the message comes after the work is done,” he said, adding that most of his art pieces also reflect his personal issues.
“It’s self-expression,” he said. “My artwork is a reminder for myself that I need to make some changes in my lifestyle.”
For another artist, Muhammad Qawiem Mohadi whose alias is “Wicked01’, built a spacesuit around Awang Budiman and is sent into the future.
The 27-year-old also recalled memories of him holding the mascot’s hands and cried.
“It was very lucky for us to have that experience to be part of the year where SEA Games were hosted in Brunei.”
For his art, titled “Awang Budiman 2099”, the artist incorporates the development of the digital world in the country and the integration of Generation Z’s dependency on gadgets and technology today.
Most of the artist’s mecha design stems from the artist’s strong passion for video games particularly, Hiro Kojima’s Death Stranding and also Kunka Okawara’s Gundam designs.
“I wanted to focus on the future era of Brunei,” he said.
“At first, I drew galaxies as my main background but then I decided to add more Bruneian identity instead. That is when I thought about incorporating a futuristic honeycomb background,” said Qawiem, adding that he was inspired by Brunei’s first comic book superhero, Tebuanman.
The Budiman Exhibition was part of Guerrilla Artchitect’s programme to help provide more exposure to local artists.
From the walls to abandoned buses, Guerrilla 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.
Zaim understands that many local artists, not only graffiti artists have faced many challenges when it comes to recognition in the country.
“No one can survive alone. We need to work together as artists — no matter the background,” he concluded.
The Bruneian | BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN