Recently, an album of photos appeared on Facebook called “Malaysian Street Sign Tribute for Unsung Heroes”. At first glance, the photos look like pictures of ordinary Malaysian road signs. But look closer and you see that every road is named after a well-known Malaysian, from both the past and present.The names range from entertainers like Yasmin Ahmad and Sudirman, to the lawyer and politician Karpal Singh, to human rights activist Irene Fernandez and sportswoman Nicol David. These are not road signs that exist in Malaysia – at least, not yet. But if writer and designer Kevin Bathman had a say, they would be.Kevin, who was born in KL and now resides in Australia, created and uploaded the photos a few weeks ago. Feeling restless one night, he Photoshopped the names of different iconic Malaysians onto existing photos (from Flickr photographer Low Joo Hiap) as an experiment in imagination and storytelling. He has previously created projects exploring Malaysian identity, including The Chindian Diaries.“When I thought about the contribution of unsung heroes and the lack of acknowledgement for their role in society, I figured the best way to immortalise their memory was via road signs,” he told Poskod.MY, explaining that he had wanted to do something rather than venting about the “deterioration of Malaysian politics.”So what’s in a (road) name? A lot, according to Kevin. “It reflects the country and society, as it is seen not just by the local community but a worldwide audience, with the advent of Google Maps and so on. We need start acknowledging those who struggled tirelessly for their community and the well-being of all Malaysians.”However, not everybody agreed with his choices. When Astro Awani published the photos on its website and its Facebook page, hundreds of people commented – many of them angry about the inclusion of Ambiga Sreenevasan and Karpal Singh in the tribute. Others asked why he was questioning the naming of roads at all.Kevin says that it’s a way “to start a conversation” and also mentions that, as well as seeing angry reactions, the photos have resonated with many. In his interview with Astro on the road names, he emphasises that he thought of contributions from Malaysians “regardless of race or religion”. But he tells Poskod.MY that he feels there isn’t a diverse representation across ethnicities and backgrounds in how Malaysian roads are named in reality.As a silver lining, Kevin found out that a couple of his imagined road names do exist: Sybil Kathigasu, a nurse who supported the resistance during the Japanese occupation, has a road in Ipoh named after her. Someone also pointed out that there is Karpal Singh Drive in Penang. A seaside promenade was named after the late lawyer following his death last year.Interview by Ling Low. Photos courtesy of Kevin Bathman. Click to expand the gallery: Sorry, nothing found.
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