30 Artists Came Together To Paint An Abandoned Lot With Portraits Of Inspiring Malaysians

The "Pillars of Sabah" was launched on 16 September and attracted over 200 people, including the mayor.

Cover image via Red Hong Yi

In conjunction with Malaysia Day on 16 September, a group of people came together to express their love for their country by painting the town red... literally

Hong Yi (Red), who is internationally known for creating art with everyday objects, together with her highschool classmate and local film producer Jared Abdul Rahman, initially planned to paint a Kota Kinabalu site with bright yellow paint during the election period in May.

However, following the new change in government, the duo decided to celebrate art, community, and Sabahans by revamping an abandoned space in a project called "Pillars of Sabah".

Image via Red Hong Yi

The project was executed by 30 artists, graphic designers, illustrators, architects, photographers, and cartoonists who were each allocated a pillar to paint portraits of inspiring Malaysians

"Jared and I made sure there was a good mix of male/female artists, diverse races, various art styles... we wanted to transform this site into one that would inspire visitors through art and stories of these people," Red shared with SAYS.

The team began the first month working on their project through WhatsApp. 

"This included sending drafts, discussing who to paint, sending through biographies and statements, arranging logistics. Many of us didn't know each other before the project but now we have such a special bond, after toiling hard together on site for a week."

Image via Red Hong Yi
Image via Red Hong Yi

The portraits of the people who were chosen were either born or lived in Sabah, or holds Sabah as a significant part of their identity

They were selected by the artists themselves to be celebrated for their contribution both locally and globally. The wide range of nominees included singers, artists, environmentalists, doctors, one politician, business owners, and more.

"We did this so it would encourage the art community in Sabah AND Malaysia. Jared and I wanted the pillars to be an open portfolio for the artists, so they can be contacted for work and supported by the community (their contact details are on the pillars)," she added.

The freshly painted pillars can be found where the former Land and Survey building used to be located in the centre of downtown Kota Kinabalu, Sabah

The former building was burnt down during the 90s and was left abandoned since.


Image via Red Hong Yi


Image via Red Hong Yi

Apart from dealing with weather issues like the heat and rain, the team faced an additional theft problem during the whole process

"We left the paint and scaffolding on site the first day, and found the next day that some paint and scaffolding wood were stolen, so we had to pack them away every night (SO heavy), and get to site early to set up," the Sabahan artist said.

Image via Red Hong Yi

After many long hours and sleepless nights, "Pillars of Sabah" was finally launched on Malaysia Day, 16 September, and attracted over 200 people – including the mayor!

Red said that what made the event extra special was that the nominees also showed up and stood with the artists who drew them on the pillars.

According to her, the Sabah Art Gallery want the paintings to be left there for six months, while the mayor mentioned that he wanted to protect the painted site for a year.

However, Red mentioned that she is leaving it up to the public to make that decision.

Image via Red Hong Yi

"We hope this will become a major tourist attraction in Sabah too, one that will encourage the arts and educate people about our unique heritage."

You can check out more photos on their Instagram hashtag #PillarsofSabah.

Image via Red Hong Yi

Here's what Red Hong Yi previously created with unconventional objects:

Check out these fellow noteworthy Malaysian artists on SAYS:

You may be interested in: