PETALING JAYA: Deep in the heart of Kuala Lumpur is a bustling hawker centre that stands apart from all the other eateries in the city.
It’s not just because of its bright orange exterior, which makes it noticeable even from afar. Wrapped around the white columns of its entrance are elaborate, lovingly created drawings of Malaysian culinary delights, as well as the wise words of a celebrated poet.
This whimsical, doodle-style mural is the handiwork of 46-year-old visual artist Arif Rafhan Othman, or “Superdoofus”, as he calls himself on social media.
He had been approached by Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) to collaborate with local poet Pyanhabib Rahman on beautifying the Pusat Penjaja Madani on Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman (formerly Pusat Penjaja Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman).
The creation of this mural is part of Projek Lestari Niaga @ Kuala Lumpur, a project by DBKL aimed at upgrading local eateries around the city.
When met with FMT earlier this month, Arif was hard at work touching up his mural with the help of his wife, Suhana Mohamed Daud. He cheerfully pointed out the thick arrow trails all over the hawker centre’s front columns.
“This shows how the city is always on the move, always pulsating,” he said. “For this mural, I wanted to accentuate the food and cultural landmarks of KL, two things the city is most known for.”
Arif is certainly a prolific artist, with over 17 years of experience in illustration, design and animation. His artwork has featured in many local publications, including “Gila-Gila” magazine, Felix Cheong’s “Sprawl: A Graphic Novel”, and Zan Azlee’s “Adventures of a KL-ite in Afghanistan”.
The Ipoh-born’s murals have also adorned the walls of various locations including Little India and the Taman Tun Dr Ismail Library.
Meanwhile, one of his latest works is “Batik Star Wars”, a digital artwork depicting characters from the franchise in a lush traditional style. It was created for the Festival of the Force, a “Star Wars” event taking place at Paradigm Mall in Kelana Jaya this weekend (not to be confused with the recent “Mando Mayhem” gathering at Jaya One in Section 16).
Curious as to how the “Superdoofus” moniker came about? Arif laughingly revealed it’s the “superheroic” version of “doofus”, a nickname he was given in college!
Asked about the origin of his creative passions, he attributes it to the influence of his late father, fellow artist Othman Mansor, who immersed him in the field from a very young age.
“I grew up knowing names like Salvador Dali. I was learning about concepts like surrealism even before I knew my ABCs,” Arif quipped.
The father of three added that he enjoys incorporating Malaysian elements into his art style, which developed naturally from his long-held fondness for doodling.
“I love doodling because anyone can do it, even those with no experience in art. Some people don’t look very highly on it, but I don’t agree with that. If you can express your thoughts through doodling, why shouldn’t it be considered an art form?”
Arif started work on the mural on April 28 and completed it within a day. It features two original poems by Pyanhabib, as well as depictions of popular local dishes that can be enjoyed at the centre.
Sadly, the mural was affected by heavy rain almost immediately after it was completed, which meant Arif had to return on the day of this interview to touch things up.
Indeed, creating murals comes with a unique set of challenges owing to its outdoor nature, he told FMT. Factors such as the weather, the height and surface of the walls, and, most importantly, human interaction have to be considered.
“When you paint a mural, you will always get stopped by passersby. They will ask what you are doing, and you can have very interesting conversations.
“This is fine, I enjoy it, but you must make sure they don’t end up distracting you from your work,” he said jovially.
In his experience, his work attracts all sorts of curious onlookers, from tourists with sharp artistic insight to disagreeable uncles who argue with him that “real artists” don’t get paid.
Sure enough, on this day, Arif was approached by several people as he worked on his mural. Some of them even snapped selfies with him.
But it’s all in a day’s work for this creative individual who, despite his funny social media handle, takes his art, and its purpose, very seriously. Case in point: Arif hopes his work will help spread positivity among visitors at the hawker centre.
“I hope my mural can invoke a feeling of cheerfulness,” he said. “This is a breakfast centre, so I want them to have this cheerful feeling in the early part of their day, and I hope it will help them as they go about their work and their lives.”
Follow Arif Rafhan Othman aka ‘Superdoofus’ on Instagram.