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Understanding Street Art in Malaysia

Capstone,  Malaysian  Street  Art 0

YES Abroad Student: Sabrina Barton, YES Abroad 2014-15, Malaysia

Capstone Project: Malaysian Street Art

Project Link: View and download the project.

YES Abroad student Sabrina Barton (2014-15) created a capstone project that examined graffiti in Malaysia and its political or cultural connotations, specifically with regard to social advocacy and government commissioned projects.

It took Sabrina some time before she was able to settle on a project that she wanted to explore, but once she began to recognize how she had grown during her time in Malaysia, her interest in exploring Malaysian graffiti piqued.

Sabrina recalls a specific moment of feeling a sense of integration into Malaysian life:

“I was on my way to Central Market with some fellow exchange students when I looked over at a colorful graffiti covered canal that I had probably seen twenty times before, but had never really noticed. When I looked at the canal in the beginning of my exchange, I saw it as a tourist would. I still have a picture on my camera from my arrival of the canal, but I know that what I saw then was just aesthetically pleasing, and I didn't focus on any of the individual murals. At the end of my exchange, when I saw the canal I saw a mural of Yuna, a famous Malaysian pop singer that the country is so proud of. I saw Najib, the countries prime minister, with an oil can dripping into his mouth. I could read the Malay captions and understand that the street art I had been seeing my entire exchange was not just a painting on a building, but rather a representation of the society and culture that I was now a part of.”

Sabrina also created opportunities for herself by connecting with local artists to speak about Malaysian culture through the lens of public art. She was able to interview three artists about how they perceived street art in Malaysia, but ultimately the only interview that she included in her capstone was with a well-known local artist by the name of Orkibal.

“Orkibal was not only a great guy, but he also had in-depth and thought provoking answers to all of my questions, and even sparked a few that I hadn't thought of,” said Sabrina.

By using her language skills and learned context from Malaysia, Sabrina captured a sense of her host country that represented how her understanding of Malaysia had changed since her arrival. Ultimately, she was happy to share her project with her Malaysian and U.S. peers, who enjoyed seeing the country through the lens of an exchange student who spent 10-months immersed in its culture.

“I feel like my exchange is a little bit like street art; colorful and beautiful and obviously full of culture, but only truly understood to someone who has experienced what I have,” said Sabrina.