BANDAR SERI BEGAWAN — Street art murals and colourful shophouses are set to transform Jalan Roberts as part of the Bandar Seri Begawan facelift project.

Seven artists have been commissioned to paint a floor mural called “Seven Padians”, which aims to memorialise Brunei’s history of river commerce before the existence of markets on land.

Each drawing of the padian — boat traders selling their wares on the Brunei River — will represent the seven puak jati (indigenous groups) of Brunei.

The ethnic groups — Bruneian Malay, Kedayan, Murut, Tutong, Belait, Dusun and Bisaya — will be depicted based on their distinctive colour schemes, cultural symbols and motifs.

“We’re hoping this big project will kickstart having more art pieces around Bandar,” said Ariff Suhaimi, a representative from Guerrilla Architects, a collective of local graffiti and street artists.

“We are a local company that is really passionate about murals… It’s one of the ways we can help to contribute to build up Brunei tourism one day, maybe after the pandemic dies down.”

The ‘Seven Padian’ floor mural is taking shape on Jalan Roberts. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

Breaking down graffiti stigma

Guerrilla Architects, which started out as a graffiti crew in 1997, is spearheading two murals in the city centre — “Seven Padians” and “The Big Wall”, which are both located behind the BIBD Ar-Rahnu building.

Ariff said “The Big Wall” will be a continuation of “Seven Padians”, building off similar themes such as Kampong Ayer and bunga simpur, Brunei’s national flower. It will also incorporate Jawi calligraphy.

Eight graffiti artists will be collaborating to paint “The Big Wall’” over several months — the artwork will eventually measure 15-stories high to become the country’s largest mural.  

Ariff said Guerrilla Architects has worked hard to challenge the stigma surrounding graffiti art. 

“Graffiti is quite versatile now, not just focusing on tagging and vandalism.

“That’s how it all started, we cannot forget that because that’s who we are. It’s just how we are blending in with society.”

Transforming Bandar through art

The government is hoping to use art and murals to lure more visitors to downtown Bandar as well as create a more pedestrian and business-friendly city centre.

The Jalan Roberts facelift is also part of the BSB Development Masterplan — a blueprint that aims to transform Brunei’s capital into a modern city centre.

Earlier this year during the first phase of the project, five heritage shophouses on Jalan Roberts were given a makeover with bright paint, drawing comparisons to similar restoration projects in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur.

The recently renovated shophouses on Jalan Roberts have now become a popular spot with pedestrians. Photo: Rasidah Hj Abu Bakar/The Scoop

The “Seven Padians” mural, which kicked off with a live-painting session on November 22, is the second phase of the transformation.

Adding murals in downtown Bandar is another way to enliven the area, said acting chairman of the BSB Municipal Board Aminuddin Hj Buntar.

“This is the first part of our plans, and there will be more projects down the road.”

The artists involved in painting the “Seven Padians” mural include Guerilla Artchitects, Larvsh, SketchOne Studio, Petals and Palettes, Language and Literature Bureau Team, HWNS Team and Maziyyah Yussof.

Bird’s eye view of the ‘Seven Padians’ floor mural on Jalan Roberts. Photo: Faiq Airudin/The Scoop

Ariff hopes the project will inspire an art movement in BSB.

Getting approval for the mural project was a long process, he explained, as the artists had to identify the building owners and then get the government to green light the design.

“We’re lucky the government [is backing] us and helping with requests and approval.

“Because of how we started, people would negatively judge graffiti as vandalism, but what we want to portray now is something really positive that can give more meaning towards our art.”