The Project

Pillars of Sabah was a community art project that featured the works of local artists in celebration of Sabah’s rich natural and cultural identity.

Occupying the ruins of the old, colonial Lands and Surveys building in the heart of Kota Kinabalu, the project utilised the site’s remnant pillars to exhibit the artwork—each pillar featuring the unique artistic talent and style of a different artist, establishing the project’s format of 30 pillars, 30 artists*.

In addition to providing a platform to promote a more fulfilling appreciation of art, especially among the general public, the project aimed to achieve a sense of community-building by way of bringing together the local arts community, as well as the broader community in general, in celebration of the Sabahan identity, and in doing so highlight topical themes of much-needed discussion.

Although Pillars of Sabah was originally founded as a one-off outdoor art exhibition, the community art project’s third edition was officially launched on 20 December 2020 in conjunction with International Human Solidarity Day. The first edition was launched on 16 September 2018, in conjunction with Malaysia Day, and the second edition was launched on 30 March 2019, in conjunction with WWF-Malaysia’s Earth Hour. Each edition featured a different group of artists, highlighting a different theme.

With respect for the local street art community, from which the project takes much of its inspiration, the project opted for an organic approach to its planning and longevity.

NOTE: In efforts towards greater community inclusion, the third edition introduced the format of 31 pillars, 31 artists. The site has 31 free-standing pillars, with the exception of one thin pillar positioned out of order towards the centre of the site. The newly-incorporated pillar had been grouped as part of the feature wall in previous editions.

The Site

The Pillars of Sabah community art project occupied the site of the former Lands and Surveys Office building, in the heart of Kota Kinabalu.

In addition to the Atkinson Clock Tower (built 1905), and the former General Post Office building (built 1918, originally housing the Government Printing Department, currently housing the Sabah Tourism Board), the building that was the Lands and Surveys Office (built c. 1920s, later housing the Social Welfare Department) is also heritage listed.

Despite surviving the Allied bombing of Jesselton (now named Kota Kinabalu) during World War II, however, the building was destroyed by fire on 31 December 1992. And without any recovery or restoration since, the neglected space became a haven for street artists. 

The Support

The Pillars of Sabah community art project was founded in 2018 by Red Hong Yi and Jared Abdul Rahman, with support from Sabah Art Gallery under Sabah Cultural Board, Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah.

Nippon Paint (Sabah) Sdn Bhd was also a key project partner, offering generous support since the beginning.

The project was also proudly supported by Sabah Tourism Board, Sabah Museum, Kota Kinabalu City Hall and DBKK Holdings.

The first edition was funded by the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah. After the launch, the project received additional funding support from Yang Berbahagia Datuk Yeo Boon Hai, Mayor* of Kota Kinabalu City Hall.

The second edition was funded by WWF-Malaysia, Nippon Paint (Sabah) Sdn Bhd, and the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah.

The third edition was funded by strategic partner Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) Art In The City Public Art Commissioning Programme, through PENJANA and MyCreative Ventures.

The third edition was additionally supported by Sabah Human Development and Empowerment Association (SAHDEA), Teguh Everest, El Exito D’Borneo Legacy, and Breeze Magazine.

*At the time of the funding support, Datuk Yeo Boon Hai was Mayor of Kota Kinabalu City Hall. Datuk Yeo Boon Hai served as mayor from 2 February 2016 until 30 December 2018.

Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA)

The Cultural Economy Development Agency (CENDANA) is an initiative set up by the Malaysian government to build a vibrant, sustainable and ambitious cultural economy for Malaysia.

CENDANA positions itself as an umbrella body with enough resources and expertise to reach and improve the cultural sector of the creative economy. With a large and growing amount of data, CENDANA is able to see the big picture and diagnose the effects of one part of the ecosystem on another, funnelling aid where it is needed. As a government initiative, it is assured of being able to work for a meaningful amount of time. This allows for the initial experimentation needed in beginning this huge undertaking.

CENDANA acts as a connector between creators, regulating bodies, private investors or businesses, policymakers and consumers. To nurture these entities individually so that they are healthy, while keeping an eye on the larger goals and continually refining strategies based on evidence.

Through its efforts, CENDANA aims to transform Malaysia into the cultural destination that it should be.

Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment, Sabah

In 1968, the Ministry of Coordination was established to monitor development projects implemented by State and Federal departments.

In 1976, the Ministry of Manpower and Environmental Development was established to take over the functions of the above Ministry.

In 1981, the ministry’s name was changed to Ministry of Resource Development. Its new functions included the human resources development, industrial training, tourism development, protection of Sabah Parks, labour and environment.

In 1985, the ministry reverted back to its original name as Ministry of Human Resources and Environmental Development.

In 1987, as tourism became the main focus of the ministry, its name was changed to Ministry of Tourism and Environmental Development. Wildlife Department came under the purview of the ministry while the human resource development component was transferred to the Chief Minister’s Department.

In 1999, the Science and Technology Unit came under the purview of the ministry. Its name changed to Ministry of Tourism Development, Environment, Science and Technology.

In 2004, finally the Culture Component was put under the purview of the Ministry, which was formerly under the Culture, Youth and Sport Ministry. Science and Technology Unit came under the purview of the Chief Minister’s Department. The ministry is now known as Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment.

Sabah Cultural Board

A dream plan to establish a government run agency that focused primarily on the development and promotion of culture and arts in Sabah was finally realised in 1996 when the Sabah Cultural Board Enactment (1996) was legislated.

Since its establishment, Sabah Cultural Board has achieved many great successes at both local and international levels in efforts to develop and promote the state’s rich cultural arts and folklores. The active participation of Sabah Cultural Board artists at international dance and folklore events in countries like Japan, Australia, Turkey, Germany as well as in ASEAN countries bear testimony of such achievements.

Guided by its vision and mission, and in line with the policy of the State Government which calls for more concerted efforts to conserve and preserve the various cultural heritage of all the ethnic groups in the State, the Sabah Cultural Board continues to strive to refine her roles and functions to meet that need.

Sabah Art Gallery

Sabah Art Gallery was established on April 11, 1984 to promote Sabah’s tangible arts. The late Datuk Mohd. Yaman Ahmad Mus was its first Director having started his endeavours in the 70s. His vision and insights brought about a significant change in the development and promotion of tangible arts in Sabah.

It was only in 2017 that the Sabah Art Gallery officially came under the administration of Sabah Cultural Board following an amendment to the Sabah Cultural Board Enactment (2017).

The Sabah Art Gallery organizes annual exhibitions and events that promotes work by local and international artists. Annual Art Selection is conducted to encourage local talent and to increase the collection of the Gallery.

The Sabah Art Gallery Conservation Building is located in Kota Kinabalu and is first ‘Green’ building in Borneo, with distinctive design it’s an attraction in itself.

Sabah Tourism Board

The Sabah Tourism Board, or generally known as Sabah Tourism, is an agency of the Sabah State Government operating under the purview of the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment. Sabah Tourism’s primary responsibility is the marketing and promotion of tourism for the State.

Tourism is Sabah’s third largest and one of the important income generating sectors which supports more than 80,000 jobs. Striving to ensure that tourism remains an important economic pillar, Sabah Tourism continues to promote and market Sabah as a world-class premier eco tourism destination.

In the effort of promoting Sabah and in ensuring the success and sustainable growth of the sector, Sabah Tourism is working closely with industry players. The continued effort of Sabah Tourism, with the Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment and industry players, directly contributes to the overall development of the tourism sector on both national and international scale.

Since it was established in August 1976, Sabah Tourism’s responsibilities have continually expanded and defined to cater to the current needs of the global tourism market.

Today Sabah Tourism constitutes seven divisions: Digital & Communications, Research, MICE, Marketing, Product , Finance & Corporate Services, and Internal Audit.

Sabah Tourism’s wholly owned subsidiary Sri Pelancongan Sabah Sdn Bhd (SPS), supplements and complements the efforts of Sabah Tourism by working closely with the tourism industry in event management, publicity and publication as well as supply and sale of local handicrafts.

Sabah Museum

The Sabah Museum, located in the shop houses at Gaya Street, Kota Kinabalu, was officially opened in July 15, 1965. The establishment of the Museum was to a large extent due to the efforts of the Sabah Society. In fact, the famous Woolley Collection, which formed the foundation collection of the incipient museum, belonged to Mr. G.C. Woolley, the executive officer designate of the proposed society (died in 1947). The first Curator of the Sabah Museum was Mr. E.J. Berwick. The Sabah Museum grew and expanded rapidly while still located at Gaya Street. It was reflective of the State Government’s commitment to the Sabah Museum when a much larger (43 acres), permanent and prestigious site for the purpose-built museum was chosen where the old Government House (and later the State Legislative Assembly buildings) used to be.

The official opening of the Sabah Museum, located at its present site was officiated by His Majesty the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong on April 11, 1984. In 1985, the post of Curator was upgraded to the Director of Sabah Museum. Presently, the Museum comes under the State Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Environment.

Kota Kinabalu City Hall

The Kota Kinabalu City Hall (Malay: Dewan Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu, abbreviated DBKK) is the city council which administers the city and district of Kota Kinabalu in the state of Sabah, Malaysia. The council consists of the mayor plus twenty-four councillors appointed to serve a one-year term by the Sabah State Government.

The history of the town of Jesselton can be traced back to the administration of British North Borneo Company (BNBC) in 1881. Throughout the administration under the Federation of Malaysia since 1963, the town subsequently renamed into Kota Kinabalu and a council was later established after it granted city status on 2 February 2000.

Nippon Paint (Sabah) Sdn Bhd

Revolutionising the paint industry through corporate responsibility, the Nippon Paint Malaysia (NPM) Group developed a flagship corporate social responsibility (CSR) programme called “Colourful Dreams”, which physically transforms children’s homes across Malaysia. The accompanying ‘Colourful Reads’ and ‘Colourful Picasso’ workshops focus on reading and drawing respectively, aimed at building greater confidence and self-worth of underprivileged children from these homes.

With a solid brand and corporate credentials, the NPM Group consistently garners industry recognitions for its efforts in pushing the boundaries of coating solutions. The Group has won consumer choice awards such as the Reader’s Digest Trusted Brand Awards (2006-2014) and Putra Brand Awards (2010-2014), as well as received industry accolades such as the Best Company for Leadership in Paint Technology Asia by IAIR in 2014 and Frost & Sullivan’s Paint & Coatings Company of The Year in 2011. In its concerted effort to champion sustainability towards a greener footprint, the Group has received the Green Label Certification (by the Singapore Environment Council), EcoLabelling Certification Licence (by SIRIM QAS International) and several Green Excellence Awards by Frost & Sullivan.

Nippon Paint (Sabah) Sdn Bhd was incoporated in 1978.

Sabah Human Development and Empowerment Association (SAHDEA)

The Sabah Human Development and Empowerment Association (Malay: Persatuan Pembangunan dan Pemerkasaan Insan Sabah) aims to promote sustainable regional development in the state of Sabah especially in the growth of its people in various industries through capacity building activities, inclusion and solidarity in general and to improve the quality of life especially people in rural areas, as well as to create prospects for the youth and disadvantaged groups in society.

An idea that dates back to 2008, SAHDEA was formed by a group of professionals from different backgrounds. It is their belief that the various communities of Sabah needs better representation and assistance. SAHDEA hopes to become that medium, so that solutions to problems can be achieved.


Established in 1972, WWF-Malaysia is part of WWF, the international conservation organisation. Working to sustain the natural world for the benefit of people and wildlife, WWF-Malaysia’s efforts to conserve nature focus on six major goals – forests, oceans, wildlife, food, climate and energy, as well as freshwater – and three key drivers of environmental problems – markets, finance and governance.

WWF-Malaysia’s mission is to stop the degradation of the earth’s natural environment and to build a future in which humans live in harmony with nature, by: 1) Conserving the world’s biological diversity; 2) Ensuring that the use of renewable natural resources is sustainable; and 3) Promoting the reduction of pollution and wasteful consumption.