KUALA Pilah in Negri Sembilan can be teeming with people on weekends, with out-of-towners coming in to see family, college students on their outings and tourists enjoying the rural scenery and delicious Minang food. But the town gets pretty quiet during the week.
Regardless of all the people coming and going, Kuala Pilah is home to artist Kide Baharudin, 28, who uses it as a subject for his paintings. But he does it through the lens of second-hand nostalgia.
“I’m showing what it was like in the 1960s and 70s,” he says.
“I wasn’t born yet so it’s all based on what my parents told me. It seemed like a very exciting time. Shops had jukeboxes and everyone was hanging out in town, nlike these days where many have left to work in Kuala Lumpur.”
Kide’s portrayals of old Kuala Pilah are colourful and intricate, with dozens, if not hundreds, of characters in each painting. There are young men with bouffants on bicycles and ladies in stylish batik sarong and kebaya. An open window reveals a game of mahjong in progress. The Rex cinema carries posters of Bruce Lee films and spaghetti westerns.
One of these paintings became the basis of a design that Kide did for a competition in 2017, Vans Asia Custom Culture, organised by American shoe manufacturer Vans.
“I did the painting on canvas and transferred it to the Vans shoe template,” he explains. “When I got to the regional finals in China, I discussed with my mentor Fritilldea on how to improve the design. That’s why you see the KL and Shanghai skyline in the final product, as well as skateboarding elements, because Vans makes skateboarding shoes.
SKATES IN THE CITY
The people at Vans were impressed. Kide had successfully inserted vintage-style characters amongst modern surroundings, also mixing Eastern and Western elements in front of various cityscapes.
“I’m lucky because we have different races living here so it’s not strange to see different cultural elements all mixed up in one artwork. Although I didn’t win the competition, it opened the door for me to design posters for this year’s House of Vans Asia tour in eight countries,” he says.
The tour kicked off in Kuala Lumpur early this month, and has made its way to cities such as Singapore, Seoul in South Korea and Guangzhou, China. Other cities on the calender include Jakarta, Indonesia and Tokyo, Japan.
Kide says: “I came up with the concept for the posters with ideas of local culture and heritage, starting with research and random sketches. I take my ideas from books, Internet and my travels if possible. But I couldn’t go to Korea or China because I didn’t have the budget!
“I tried to come up with images that complement the characters’ emotions and activities, and add some humorous elements as well.”
The sketches are then scanned and coloured digitally on Photoshop. Kide took about a month to finish all eight posters. It was during the fasting month and it was just him in his studio in Kuala Pilah, with all communications with the creative director of Vans Asia Pacific, Justice Lee (in Hong Kong), done via phone or email.
He adds: “What’s cool about Vans is that they didn’t limit or dictate my ideas, just some technical suggestions to make things easier on their end. I finally met Justice when he came to shoot my video for House of Vans. It was cool that I got to show him around my hometown.”
Kide’s brightly-coloured poster for the KL event is inspired by Kampung Baru, with the traditional kampung house in front of a backdrop of the city’s skyline. Sarong-wearing skateboarders zoom between chickens and banana trees, while a band plays, unconcerned, on the veranda.
One of the skateboarders is Malaysian skateboarding legend Pa’ Din, while Steve Van Doren, the son of one of the Vans co-founders and current company vice-president, looks out from a window.
“For KL, the trademark is the kampung house,” Kide explains. “If I do pre-war shop houses, you can also find that in Singapore but they don’t have a lot of kampung houses. So for the Singapore poster I chose to highlight their shophouses like the ones in Haji Lane.
“For House of Vans Jakarta, I use a lot of Bali elements with the Barong dance masks and also wayang kulit. We have wayang kulit in Malaysia too, and that’s what makes things difficult sometimes because we have a lot of shared culture in this region. It’s not like designing for Tokyo, for example.”
Meanwhile, the Seoul poster has a woman wearing the traditional Korean hanbok outfit walking in a busy shopping district while another woman in modern gear rushes by on her BMX bike. Kide included Van Doren in all the posters, and he’s hoping that people can spot them all.
House of Vans Asia is going to Australia and New Zealand at the end of the year, and Kide is designing their posters as well. There will be surfing events there and he’s excited to include this new element, alongside his usual cast of people.
“I play a lot with characters in my artwork,” says Kide. “I must have drawn thousands of characters since I became a full-time artist and it’s all random. Some might be people who I know or I’ve interviewed but it’s not intentional, it just so happens they are in my artwork.
“One of the reasons I do this is because I want people to spend time looking at my artwork. I want them to study it, there’s always some new detail to notice,” he says.
Given his link with Vans now, is Kide any good at skateboarding?
“I’ve only just started to learn,” he says with a laugh. “I can’t even do an ollie yet!”
*Kide’s painting Pepatah is currently showing at Segaris Art Centre at the Publika mall in Kuala Lumpur, under the Mitos X Nyata exhibition, alongside several other artists.
HOUSE OF VANS ASIA
THE marketing manager for Vans Malaysia and Singapore, Elijah Kislevitz is insistent that House of Vans isn’t designed to make money for the American shoemaker.
"We don’t even sell shoes here,” he said at the opening of the third annual House of Vans Asia Kuala Lumpur at 2, Hang Kasturi.
“It’s about the people,” he adds. “We can provide the space and make it look cool but the special sauce is the people coming in with their creativity. Like artist Donald Abraham with his Skate Dog programme, no one’s ever done that. There’re music gigs and art exhibitions, all for free.”
Meanwhile, the company is seeing itself unwittingly involved in a post-May 9 freedom of expression controversy involving activist Fahmi Reza. The Malaysian had entered Vans’ Custom Culture competition with his Kita Semua Penghasut artwork, featuring the clown-face caricature of former Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak on a pair of slip-ons.
“As far as the guidelines went, it didn’t break any rules. It certainly created a lot of buzz,” says Kislevitz.
“When you go back to Vans’ beginnings in the US, we’re not part of the political revolution. We’re part of pushing creativity and becoming a platform to let people become creative. It’s hard to draw the line of what’s creative or artistic and what’s a statement. So you have people like Fahmi, and also someone like Kide Baharudin.”