Trending: Ernest Zacharevic, Malaysia's answer to Banksy

  • 13 November 2013
A mural by Ernest Zacharevic in Malaysia

Malaysia has its own version of Banksy - street artist Ernest Zacharevic. His latest piece of work, which highlights the problem of crime, has been painted over by the authorities - but not before being widely shared on social media.

Across the water from wealthy Singapore is the Malaysian city of Johor Bahru, known as one of the country's crime hot spots. Late last Thursday evening, 27-year-old street artist Ernest Zacharevic was at work on a wall there with his spray can. Zacharevic is from Lithuania but is a permanent resident of Malaysia, and is well-known in the region for his street art.

The mural he painted that night depicts a Lego woman carrying an expensive Chanel bag with a knife-wielding mugger Lego man lurking around the corner (the Lego reference can be explained by the fact that Malaysia's branch of Legoland is also in Johor).

The image rapidly became a hit on Facebook. "Pictures speak a thousand words of truth," reads one of the comments. Tens of thousands of people have "liked" or shared it. Many have added their stories of muggings and vented frustration at the police.

This was exactly the reaction the artist had intended. "My paintings are always a response to whatever social environment I get exposed to," Zacharevic told the BBC. "I noticed many people just feel extremely unsafe. Everyone I talked to - no matter what their situation - would say, 'Take care of yourself and hide your bag.'"

Local officials didn't see the funny side and six days on, they sent workers to paint over it. "We cannot simply allow people to come and paint murals on the wall," Abdul Aziz at Johor Bahru City Council told the BBC. He insists crime rates are actually falling in the city, thanks to measures like improved street lighting.

The whitewashing of the walls happened despite an attempt by two local artists to make it more acceptable by adding a policeman about to handcuff the mugger to the mural.

Many on social media have been playing around with the image of the mural online too - adding flowers and other twists to it. One person has even posted an image suggesting a reproduction of the mural may have been re-painted back on the same wall - though it's unclear if this is genuine.

Reporting by Lucy Proctor