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For those who listen

Posted by on Tuesday, 27 October, 2009 at 3:53 PM. Filed under: Gallery

The Silent Wall Project

We started this project out of a simple love for our unique city, Kuala Lumpur. Maybe it was the teh tarik or roti canai that spurred us to whip out our cameras for Pudu Jail, when Steven Lee discussed the idea to photograph the wall after news of its impending demolition came up in the papers.

Fresh from Steven’s photography workshop in early 2008, we thought it would be a good idea to apply what we had learned to document Pudu. Little did we know that through our personal encounters with the long lonely wall we would learn so much about our city, other people and even ourselves. It was thrilling to document it.

We echo the collective grief and dismay felt by this much neglected wall’s impending farewell. Maybe this can be a wake-up call to other ordinary people like us who don’t usually think about history and its importance to do something more. On a positive note, we can all still do our part to raise awareness and keep the old stories alive to tell the next generation.






I started the project Silent Wall after a discussion with a few of my workshop students over teh tarik at the Annexe last year. I was wondering how a small group of photographers can work together to produce a meaningful, single-themed project.

Knowing full well that the walls of Pudu Jail would be crumbling down one day I decided to document the mural to preserve it for future generations.

Love it or it loath it, Pudu Jail is KL as it is and was known. In it’s heyday, it was possibly as great an iconic building as the Two Towers (oops..) Twin Towers.

And so it began. We already have a working copy of the book which includes all the murals and graffiti. It needs more stuff to go in. We are also tracking down the original mural artist Mr Khong Yen Chee and have leads to interview him.

Steven Lee is a Malaysian photographer based in the UK. He began his photographic career as a documentary and travel photographer in the late 90’s when he began writing travel related articles for magazines and journals. In 2000, he published his first coffee-table book titled Outside Looking In : Kuala Lumpur, which received the Asian Prize at PhotoCity Sagamihara Festival of the Image, Japan in 2007.

In 2002, he was approached by AntiSlavery International UK to photograph specially prepared Indian recipes by Chattar Singh of Rajasthan for a fund-raiser book titled A Taste for Freedom. In 2007 he published his second coffee-table book MALAYSIANS.




When Steven Lee mooted the idea, it was an opportunity for me to partake in recording a part of history.

Only when I began photographing, did the grandeur of the whole complex dawn on me. In 1895, and even in the decades subsequently, it must have loomed large on its surroundings. And the murals … were they based on one man’s idea of Shangri-La? What were the painters thinking when they drew and painted those murals? What were they feeling? Why paint the walls in the first place? These were some questions that played in my mind.


Now, it will be no more … in the name of progress and development. But at least, I was part of that history, however miniscule.

Roziah Shamsuddin is a hobbyist photographer.




Pudu Jail (PJ) is mostly associated with notorious criminals and capital punishment. There is little appreciation of the architecture or the mural. When I embarked on Silent Wall project, I saw beyond the ‘darkness’ and began to appreciate the paintings and the prison structure. We have made many visits to document the mural. Each trip I discovered something new and my affections for the place grew.


It’s been 18 months since we started and the reality of demolishing Pudu Jail has begun. It will soon be gone and replaced with a new commercial development. Future generations may not recognize the spot that was once prison grounds graced by the worlds’ longest mural. We can’t change reality but we can do our best in recording history.


Silent Wall project aims to showcase the paintings on the walls and share stories behind the creative brush strokes. We hope to see the book become reality.

Li-Ling Lim is a photographer fascinated with capturing the simplicities of life.




I had merely thought that this project would be a natural progression from the photo workshop taught by Steven. But as I came up-close to the textures of the painting and visualized the painter’s very own fingerprints forming the flowers, leaves and petals, Pudu Jail came alive to me. This is a place which people would want to forget, yet it has a wall that most people can place somewhere in their memories. After coming back many times, I began to appreciate the wall paintings and its history more and more.


I think of many other historical buildings that have been torn down in KL or face the threat of demolition. Development without foresight to conserve heritage will mar the very character of KL forever. Not only that, potential lessons that could be learned by future generations about their forefathers’ ways vanish along with the swing of the cranes.

In a sense, Pudu Jail is meeting its own ‘death sentence’ and we’d like to remember it through this means.

Joanna Lee is a photo-loving gal who enjoys finding “eureka!” moments almost everyday.




When I think about Pudu Jail I remember my old primary school which I have not visited for so many years as it is just around the corner from the prison. The place reminds me of the time that I spent away from the school, always making empty promises to visit it again. I always see Pudu Jail off in the distance while stuck in the morning jam to enter the school though I was still too young to appreciate it.



I’m sure that the place would remind people of all the sufferings criminals had to go through there but to me it has a strange dark beauty not to be found anywhere else. It’s sad to know that the place that I used to take for granted is going to be torn down. It is still a work of art considering there wasn’t any fancy technology to help build something like that back in the day. Also the time taken just to draw the outer walls…

Jerrica Leong is a student pursuing a degree in journalism, so looking at things with a different perspective is what she is required to do. Seeing Pudu Jail as a work of art may make others think that she is crazy but it remains so in her eyes. Jerrica is 18 years old.


Silent Wall is a project initiated by photographer Steven Lee and a group of volunteers, including the contributors above. They started photographing the Pudu Jail murals in mid 2008, intending to produce a book as the final outcome. They are currently searching for partners interested in raising funds and/or publishing the project. We have captured some sample pages below. As you can see, the results are beautiful. View the full book preview here.

For further information please contact: svllee AT gmail DOT com.

All images are courtesy of their respective authors and Silent Wall project. Please do not use without permission.






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  1. Raz says
    29/10/2009 3:27 PM

    Lots of respect to those who take the time to document and record our fast disappearing built heritage.

  2. alisha says
    06/07/2010 5:11 PM

    i hate the people who distrory the pic !!! i hate they all 4 ever !!!
    the pic look nice they all go 2 distrory hate them !!!

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