Man at His Best

ESQ&A: Kenji Chai And Johnnie Walker Malaysia Join Forces To Stand Up For Strays

This year, graffiti artist Kenji Chai partners with Scotch whisky-maker Johnnie Walker to champion an unlikely underdog, literally.

BY Tania Jayatilaka | Dec 8, 2016 | Arts

Who said street art, stray dogs, and Scotch whisky had nothing in common? Back in the limelight yet again breaking boundaries in art and social awareness is graffiti artist Kenji Chai, and his ubiquitous furry alter-ego, Chaigo the Stray.

Kenji teamed up with Johnnie Walker Malaysia to promote their most heart-warming campaign yet: Stand Up For Strays, encouraging more Malaysians to adopt stray dogs while raising funds for Selangor-based animal shelter, Cherish Life Home.   

Nov 27th saw 'Jingle Paws', a Christmas-themed charity auction and fundraiser organised by Cherish Life Home at Souled-Out Sri Hartamas, where limited edition hand-painted Johnnie Walker cases and bottles by Kenji Chai along with a few of his other artwork pieces were auctioned off to guests.    

A one-off event it was, but the spirit behind it, Kenji tells us, has deep roots in his identity as an artist and his long-time empathy with the strays of KL’s streets.         

ESQUIRE: How did the idea for this campaign with Johnnie Walker come about?

Kenji: Johnnie Walker approached me and said ‘You can realise your dream.” Chaigo the Stray was born around 3 years ago; I’ve been using him to draw graffiti, but it was always just…flat. This was a chance for me to bring it to life. The inspiration for the character came to me when I saw a dog killed in the highway 3 years ago. That normally happens a lot to strays, right? People don’t care. It made me think: they’re also living things, but no one cares about them. They need to survive, to find shelter and food to stay alive.

ESQ: Why do you think that made such a lasting impression on you?

K: I came from a broken family: 15 years ago I came to KL and had to survive, like these strays. You know, maybe the places you stay you just rent for a while before they kick you out. Then you go to other places, and can’t get along with your housemates, or whatever it is. I went through all these things, and I learnt how to be more independent and self-preserving, so it kind of relates to me. But strays can’t change their lives like human beings.

ESQ: Have you worked a lot with stray dogs in recent years?

K: I’m starting now. Before this, I couldn’t because I myself needed to survive. But after three years, it was time to do some CSR and pay something back to the strays that inspired me. After drawing them for 3 years, I thought about raising funds to help them and raising awareness about how to be kinder to them; teaching people not to beat them and stuff like that. You don’t even have to take them home, you can just give them food every day, show some love. I also want to promote adoption, telling dog lovers that they don’t need to pay so much money to buy a nicer breed. If you give stray dogs a home, give them a good meal, they’ll become beautiful, their fur will grow nicely. And they have something that pure-bred dogs don’t: because they’ve been through such a hard time, they’ll appreciate the good things they have now.

ESQ: How’s the response been like so far to the campaign?

K: It’s very good. Many people nowadays, even though they’re quite busy, in their inner heart, they want to do something. Maybe there’s no trigger for them, but there is something there, inside. I think we’ve been brain-washed by society and this busy world, thinking that money is the only thing to live for. But it’s not everything. There’s always something more you can do. There have been other people and organisations texting me, saying ‘we should do more things like this’; saying they’d love to contribute something and all, so we gathered them on the event day on the 27th, and we’ll try to do our best from there.    

ESQ: What are you trying to communicate to your viewers through your art?

K: The murals I draw are full of positive vibes, because the city is already full of sickness and negativity, which people always share on Facebook and all. I’m here to give more positive vibes, and hope that maybe, every day, if you pass by a road, you’ll suddenly see a mural there, and it’ll feel like…it’s something different. It may not be a big impact, but at least I’ll try to leave something sweet for them.  

ESQ: Is that also your aim in this collaboration with Johnnie Walker?

K: Yes, but this time I chose to help strays instead of humans. Humans can change their lives, they’re the smartest creations of God, but animals can’t. They can’t speak for themselves, so I’ll try and do something for them.