A giant red-headed clown looms over a mostly abandoned corner of the sidewalk. Wielding a pink, dripping popsicle, the clown leers at passersby, drooling over its fare.
The clown is named "Evil Baby Clown" and is one of the premier pieces by renowned street artist Bone Alfie, 30, a Kuala Lumpur native.
"I love clowns and skulls most of the time," Bone, named the sixth best graffiti artist in Southeast Asia at the 2011 Wall Lords competition in Taiwan, told Khabar South Asia.
Graffiti has long been a common sight in Malaysia's capital, but for years it had served to drive a wedge between youth culture and local government, which used to ban the street art and even arrest practitioners. But in 2010, the administration began hosting a street festival to encourage all generations and people from all walks of life to enjoy and encourage Malaysian street culture.
Next weekend (February 25th), Kuala Lumpur inaugurates the second annual KUL Sign Festival (2011 was skipped), where artists, athletes, and musicians are encouraged to exhibit their talents in the streets of Malaysia's capital city.
The festival, announced by Kuala Lumpur Mayor Ahmad Fuad Ismail, will feature concerts, a battle of the bands, and photography/videography, skateboarding, BMX, and breakdancing competitions and will take place at the Pasar Seni LRT station near Central Market.
But the highlight of the weekend-long festival is an international graffiti competition taking place on the banks of Klang River.
"200 local graffiti artists have confirmed participation," Mayor Ahmad told a press conference on Valentine's Day (February 14th). Over 350 people have also RSVP'd to attend on KUL's Facebook page.
Foreign artists from Italy, Singapore, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Sweden will also be participating, Ahmad added, as well as the mayor himself. At the light hearted press conference, Ahmad challenged members of the media to follow suit.
The current graffiti mural along the Klang River bank walls is listed in the Malaysia Guinness Book of Records as the longest mural in the country at 450 meters long. Come February 25th, Ahmad, together with international paint manufacturer Dulux, hopes to break this record by adding another 50 meters to the mural.
To encourage continuity and sustainability of the city's graffiti movement, the wall will also feature fresh work every four months by artists who have registered at the Ministry of Youth and Culture.
Contrary to policies of past decades, the competition marks a government initiative to dissolve the generation gap between authorities and the city's youth by encouraging a casual mingling between the generations that was once largely frowned upon as a negative Western influence.
"The core issue here is that you are dealing with young people who just like to draw. So why not encourage them? Graffiti is art and if they can beautify Kuala Lumpur at a minimal cost to the authorities, why not give them a place to express themselves?" Ahmad asked reporters.
The response from the graffiti community was to take to the streets of Jalan Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur's busiest shopping hub, and, together with local residents, clean up former graffiti seen as an eyesore.
Ahmad also believes this competition is a way to encourage intra-regional artistic exchanges, by boosting especially talented street artists into the international spotlight.
Hafiz Rahman, 25, a freelance graphic artist and 2010's KUL Sign champion, earned himself an invitation to the Shanghai-based Wall Lords competition and an invaluable opportunity to meet and exchange views with Asia's top alternative artists.
"Evil Baby Clown" artist Bone, who also designs hip-hop clothing, commented that contests like these are not only about artistic prowess, but also a test of mental strength.
"Not only are you going to be intimidated by the other competitors but by the judges as well because you know the standard of their work. So, the biggest challenge here is to be able to overcome your own inferiority complex and focus on your piece," he told Khabar Southeast Asia.