Kuching is a colorful place. Not only is it surrounded by lush greenery, but the cityscape is adorned with the bright pastel hues of old Chinese shophouses. And more recently, Kuching is becoming a popular haven for street art. Thanks to local arts festivals and even corporate sponsorships, more and more of the town’s blank walls are gradually being taken over by vivid murals.
What makes Kuching’s street art scene special is how well the murals fit in with their surrounding environment. Many of the works around town portray scenes from local life – whether it be human or wildlife. Paintings of orangutans are a common sight throughout the city, while another ubiquitous motif is the hornbill.
During your time in the ‘City of Cats,’ you’ll inevitably come across at least some street art by accident. But if you want to go out of your way to see all that you can, follow our guide below.
Exploring Kuching Street Art
Normally, our City Street Art guides are divided by city district. But Kuching is so small that all the places below can be reached on foot from the city center. And that’s a good thing. One exception, though, is the Annah Rais Longhouse, which is pretty far out of town.
Kuching’s street art can mostly be explored over a couple of days. You can easily cover most of the areas listed below as you explore the city’s main sites, like Chinatown of Carpenter Street and the buildings built by Brooke Dynasty.
One of the best things to do in Kuching is strolling along the riverfront. And this is also a good place to find some murals.
In the eastern part of the waterfront esplanade, nearby the area behind the Grand Margherita Hotel, is a long black-and-white series of murals. Kuching and its wildlife are the central theme here. And looking closely, you’ll spot some of the city’s landmarks (like the New Sarawak State Legislative Assembly Building), local cuisine and of course, the hornbill.
At the farther, western end of the riverfront, nearby the Brooke Dockyard, are some other colorful murals in addition to a cat statue. One of many public displays of cat art around town (‘Kuching’ sounds like the Malays word for cat), this one is a little bit different. The cat in the center appears to be some sort of cyborg.
On Temple Street, just near the Tua Pek Kong temple, is a hotel called Singgahsana Lodge. And all sides of the three-story building are adorned with murals, of both birds and orangutans. You can get a good view of it from the temple, but it’s also worth getting up close to see the artwork on the other side.
The murals are titled ‘Wild About Kuching’ and were painted just recently in 2017, by an artist named Leonard Siaw. The works were commissioned by the ‘What About Kuching’ festival, an annual month-long arts and culture event.
Three of the city’s most stunning murals are collectively known as the ‘#tanahairku’ murals. The works were carried out by various members of the 9Lives artist collective. And they were commissioned in 2015 by the Petronas company in celebration of Malaysia Day. The hashtag refers to a popular poem called Tanah Air by Usman Awang.
The first, titled ‘Harmony,’ is of a hornbill (Sarawak, in fact, is home to 8 out of the world’s 54 hornbill species). And around the letters are ‘Bunga Raya’ flowers, Sarawak’s state flower. You can find it on the corner of Jalan Main Bazaar and Lebuh Wayang.
The next of the Tanah Air murals is Menua Kitai on the corner of Lebuh Wayang and Jalan Wawasa. It depicts children from Sarawak’s various ethnic groups, such as indigenous Dayak, Malay and Chinese. It’s just across the street from the large Hong Sa Si Taoist temple. More specifically, it’s on the wall of the Granary Kitchen and Bar.
The third, and probably most famous, is the mural of the leaping cat. While cats, as mentioned above, are a symbol of the city, look closely at its back legs. They’re covered in the patterns of a clouded leopard, a species of feline native to Borneo, among other places. Sadly, it’s believed to be on the verge of extinction.
You can find the mural on the corner of Carpenter St. and Bishopgate.
BishopGate & Jalan Wawasan
Now turn away from the cat mural and walk down the little alley behind you. Not only will you find some murals on the walls here, but walk all the way through. On the wall beneath the elevated Jalan Wawasan Rd., you’ll find a plethora of murals.
This is probably the most condensed area for street art in all of Kuching. A lot of them are on the cartoony side, but there are several gems which make the area well-worth checking out.
Aside from the Tanah Air murals, the best examples of Kuching street art is the group of works collectively known as the ‘Orangutan Murals.’ As the name suggests, the subject matter was chosen with local Sarawak life in mind. In addition to a group of orangutans gleefully riding in a wheelbarrow, other scenes depict a local market seller, children sharing a bench and a boy trying to reel in a giant hornbill.
Somewhat surprisingly, though, many of these pieces were not painted by a local artist, but by Ernest Zacharevic, who hails all the way from Lithuania. And if you’re thinking that the pieces here bear a resemblance to some of the murals in Malaysia’s other street art hub, Penang, you’d be correct. Zacharevic is also behind the iconic Georgetown, Penang mural of children riding a bicycle.
Zacharevic was invited by the local Spago Property company in a bid to invigorate the Kuching creative scene. And the public works were carried out with the permission of local property owners, hoping to add some color to their faded walls.
You can find many of them on Jalan Power street, in between Jalan Market and the Electra House shopping mall.
While not worth going out of your way for, there are a few murals to be found on some the side alleys off of Jalan India walking street. It’s nice to see that opportunities are being given to those who may not be professionals, but who nevertheless want to add some color to their local community.
Sanjuro Cafe and Art Space
In the eastern part of town, on Jalan Padungan, was this cafe with some excellent Japan-themed murals on its walls. Note that the art may or may not still be there, as the cafe has apparently permanently closed down since my visit. If they are gone, then these pictures will serve as a tribute to the great artworks contributed by local artist Amey Sheikh Ali.
More Around Town
And there are still plenty more individual murals, or small paintings, that you’ll encounter here and there during your walks around town. Walking through random parking lots, for example, may yield some unexpected surprises.
Annah Rais Longhouse
While not in the city itself, nearby Kuching is the Annah Rais longhouse, a traditional Bidayuh home that you can read more about here. Exploring the compound, you’ll come across several pieces by none other than Ernest Zacharevic, the main artist behind the Orangutan Murals above.
As exotic as a trip to Borneo may sound, Kuching is fairly easy to get to. There are plenty of flights between Kuching and Kuala Lumpur, which itself is reachable from all over the region thanks to being the main hub of AirAsia.
There are also direct flights between Kuching and Penang and Kota Kinabalu. Internationally, you can also fly between Kuching and Singapore as well as Pontianak, Indonesia.
Coming by bus, Kuching Sentral Terminal is very well connected to the rest of Sarawak.
One of the great things about Kuching is its size. If you’re staying in a relatively central part of the city, you can pretty much get everywhere on foot. Aside from the bridge, you can also take a boat for just 1 ringgit to get across the river.
If you’re in a hurry or need to get somewhere a little farther out of town like the central bus station, just download the ridesharing app called Grab. (Uber no longer exists in Southeast Asia, as Grab recently bought them out.)
Considering the city’s size, location isn’t incredibly important, as you’ll still be able to get most places on foot. Basically, aim for anywhere in between the Kuching City Mosque and the Cat Statue.
One popular place to stay is the Riverside Majestic Hotel, which is right across the street from the bus stop that takes you to Bako National Park. Otherwise, there are all sorts of options in Kuching, from luxury hotels to budget youth hostels.