(JOHOR BAHRU, Malaysia) — A street mural has become the subject of controversy in a Malaysian border city, with local officials complaining that it paints the area in a negative light. But some contend the image reveals an ugly truth.
Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic used a public street corner in Johor Bahru as his canvas to depict two Lego characters pre-robbery. In the mural, a Lego woman carrying a Chanel bag is walking down the street, while around the corner a Lego robber waits with knife in hand.
Legoland Malaysia, which opened in nearby Nusujaya in 2012, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for comment.
But Aziz Ithnin, an official with the Johor Bahru City Council, told the Agence France-Presse that the mural was illegal graffiti and was ordered to be white-washed.
“It’s vandalism,” he told the AFP. “The robber gives an image that is not good for our country, investment and tourism. If the painting stays, everybody will be scared.”
Perhaps some tourists already were. Johor Bahru has long battled a reputation as a crime-ridden city. In 1997, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew described the state of Johor as “notorious for shootings, muggings and car-jackings,” causing a backlash from Malaysians. Since then, the country has made efforts to change that impression with increased law enforcement.
Before the mural could be painted over, other artists contributed to the piece, adding a Lego police officer running behind the thug with handcuffs.
“Now that’s a true vandalism! Malaysia never fails to amuse me,” wrote Zacharevic on his Facebook page. But some commenters on his post said that the addition of the officer was an attempt to save the work by “making it politically correct.”
In a later post, the artist told his fans not to be put off by the white-washing of the mural.
“Don’t get upset by the painting being removed,” he wrote. “Johor Bahru has proved to be a strong and opinionated state. Please continue to make Malaysia as awesome as it is. I will see you again.”
Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN