The Artist Behind Chaigo, A Dog Graffiti All Over Malaysia
Every time I go out with my friends or drive around town I always see this dog.
Who is this dog? Why is it everywhere? Is there a cult behind this?
It’s even close to where I live in Cheras.
Sometimes he doesn’t stay turquoise for long and has clothes or accessories sprayed on later.
I wanted to know who was behind it.
Started from the carcasses of stray dogs
This dog graffiti is actually quite cute, but the story behind how it started, not so much.
The man behind it all is Kenji Chai, who calls this dog Chaigo.
It’s a play on words of his last name “Chai” and the Chinese word for dog “gou”.
He is a 38 year old man from Sabah who moved to KL in 1999 to develop his career.
Kenji also lives in Cheras, which is why I often come across his graffiti.
However, he got bored of his work as a graphic designer at Gempak Starz due to the routine he felt.
Kenji started painting more to help with the boredom, but one day something hit him that led to Chaigo’s birth.
“I have seen a lot of stray dogs being hit by cars on the highways. I identify with them because I come from a broken family but feel the need to pursue my dreams in KL.
“Unlike those stray dogs, I knew I had the power to change my life,” Kenji said in an interview.
Chaigo became both his new love and his alter ego, for whom he quit his job 9-5.
“As a graphic designer for a while, I found that there were too many guidelines and restrictions. I had no freedom to do what I wanted to do.
“When I paint in the street, my mind is free to do anything. I make my own guidelines, ”he shared.
Although his family were unhappy with his decision, Kenji was happy to finally be able to immerse himself in his art without anyone breathing down his neck.
When he started spraying Chaigo on the walls, it was just for fun.
The first Chaigo graffiti he ever did was in Kampung Attap, near the Zhongshan building.
Over the years, he’s been arrested and warned before, but he enjoys the thrill of getting caught that comes with graffiti art.
However, he made an effort to start wearing proper graffiti gear so that he no longer got people’s secondary gaze.
Gain traction and become international
When Kenji first started Chaigo, he didn’t have a plan to cultivate it.
But in barely a year, Chaigo was already recognized by major brands and organizations.
He received a commission to paint Chaigo on a wall in 2014, then began to receive invitations to collaborate.
Now Kenji has collaborated with Pestle and Mortar, Netflix, Tiger Beer, Puma, CIMB, Uniqlo, Volkswagen, among others.
Besides Chaigo, Kenji also does graffiti on other animals or people for buildings.
You may have encountered the big rooster graffiti of Nando’s Petaling Street (now permanently closed).
This artwork was done by Kenji, as was the 25 story mural on the side of RED by Sirocco Hotel in Jalan Kamunting, near Yut Kee.
The 87-meter piece took Kenji 21 days to complete, earning him recognition from the Malaysian Book of Records for the country’s tallest mural in 2018.
It features a Dayak woman accompanied by the flora and fauna, which is Kenji’s niche, and the hawkers’ food.
Not only did Kenji make a household name for himself and his graffiti in Malaysia, his work is also admired around the world.
His works can be seen in China, Spain, Hong Kong, Japan, Korea, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and more.
Kenji is invited to share his art in these places.
In 2018, he was invited by an Australian mural artist to paint a large shark fresco to highlight environmental issues in Brisbane.
No regrets since quitting his job
Quitting his job and doing the art he loves at his own pace full time has changed Kenji’s life.
He said his income from collaborations would likely last him for years, so it’s safe to say that doing what he loves pays off.
That being said, he still would have done it even if he wasn’t earning well.
“As long as there is one person who appreciates my art, that’s enough for me to keep doing what I love,” he shared.
Since starting Chaigo, he no longer struggles with his career as before.
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Kenji’s art has actually been more present in my life than I thought, now that I have found the artist behind these murals on buildings.
He defied the odds of a starving artist and graffiti artist, especially in Malaysia.
However, these negative perceptions of independent artists still haunt many in our country today.
Leaving your job to pursue what you love sounds like a dream, but you are not guaranteed a journey as smooth as Kenji’s.
Then again, with people like Kenji leading the way for more budding artists, I hope more of our local talent will have the opportunity to take to the international stage in the future.
- You can read more about Kenji Chai here.
- You can read more about the other artists we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Kenji Chai, Creator of Chaigo
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