Splash and Burn: A Sumatran Conservation Mural Tour
The earth belongs to not only some humans, but all humans and other species that co-exist together. So it’s important to ensure everyone is on board in a conservation initiative. It is also very important to remember that contributions towards conservation can be done in many different ways. No matter how small, every single thing counts. It is about how we come together to create a better future for the planet we live on.
There is a beautiful and creative initiative from a group of mural artists worldwide who have come together to amplify the voices of Sumatran conservation through their work, which is displayed in many different places in Sumatra. While the artists hail from different countries, they are bound by their passion.
Taking a journey around Sumatra to view these works is becoming an iconic activity to not only learn about conservation but also to get inspired to move forward sustainably on your own!
Here are some beautiful murals from the Splash and Burn initiative, which highlights Sumatra while sharing important messages. Visit them as part of your slow travel experience around the island.
Racing Extinction by Ernest Zachrevic
From a Lithuanian artist who is now based in Malaysia, this mural highlights an orangutan baby with Sumatran children on Becak (Sumatran Tuktuk). This work is simply stunning and captures special things about the Sumatran people, culture, and biodiversity all at once.
Located in the old town of Sumatra—an economic center during the Dutch colonial period—this work is a must-visit if you’re roaming and wandering around the time machine that is Kesawan.
Ernest is the creator and leader of the Splash and Burn project and invited many other mural artists to join his endeavor.
Orangutan Tapanuli by Vhils
Vhils is the latest artist to join the project and his work is remarkable. Located in Bundaran SIB in the center of Medan, he focuses on the importance of conserving the species of Tapanuli orangutan.
With just 800 remaining in the wild, the Tapanuli orangutan is the most critically endangered species. This piece was made to expose the urgency of the orangutan Tapanuli conservation program, as their habitat is threatened by many projects such as hydro dam, oil palm plantation, and mining. Thus, this piece is very special as it advocates such a strong message behind the beauty.
If you’re doing a city tour of Medan, make sure you take the opportunity to see this work. This is my favorite mural in the town, perhaps because I was involved in its production. It was an honor to see this amazing work made from scratch! I saw with my own eyes how this piece was done within less than 24 hours. Simply talented and amazing artists!
Kampung Multatuli Mural Spot
This spot is quite special as it’s located in the slum area of Medan next to the Deli river, a historical river during the Dutch colonial period.
The village has a number of beautiful murals scattered on its walls—but one, in particular, stands out. Gabriel Pitcher created a mesmerizing picture of an old Sumatran woman, which portrays Sumatran human development and the way we’ve changed and impacted our land.
In any Indigenous community, the elders are key to unlocking stories of life in the past. The elders are part of us and help us understand our purpose as Indigenous Sumatran people. They connect us with the past through beautiful stories, mythology, songs, and other things.
There is also a piece in this kampung (village) made by Axel Void. It portrays children playing inside palm oil trees—and it’s important because it shows the reality of the millions of children who grow up in palm oil plantations. It’s a remote existence, with limited access to facilities and even electricity.
I was one of those children. My childhood is filled with memories of roaming inside the plantation rather than the forest. This work has a message that resonates and helps us all understand the complexity of the palm oil industry in Indonesia.
Hornbill by Bibi Chun
This piece focuses on the hornbill, a stunning yet endangered species. Located near the Medan rail station, this piece can seem hidden—but it’s well worth the effort to find. It’s a strong reminder that bird species are just as important as the larger species. The hornbill is one of the most endangered species as it is also poached for its horn, and this piece is very important to remind us all about this fact.
Using art to share conservation messages
All of these works are very special, sharing strong messages about Sumatran forest conservation through beautiful, inclusive street art that anyone can access. They exemplify how important it is to value conservation and contribute in our own way.
Conservation needs each and every one of us to understand our role as part of the ecosystem, not outside of it. We live together on this earth and we must change our ways of life as our current ways bring many destructions to the planet. We have to change not only for the sustainability of other species but also for our own species.
COVER: Racing Extinction mural photo by Nayla Azmi
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Nayla Azmi is an Indigenous Batak storyteller and conservationist based in Medan, North Sumatra, Indonesia. She has worked in the field for more than a decade and is passionate about conservation, decolonization, and the empowerment of women. Nayla lives with seven cats that she rescued from the street. Connect with her at firstname.lastname@example.org.