PETALING JAYA: Only a few things are certain in life, such as death and taxes. In Malaysia, it seems you can add the haze to this list.
Year after year, this environmental menace returns like an unwelcome guest, befouling our skies and tainting our lungs. Are we doomed to suffer blurry skylines annually until the end of time? What can be done about this?
The free exhibition “Haze: Coming Soon” aims to raise awareness and spark conversations about this national problem. Held at the REXKL event space, its mission is to empower individuals to demand action, and hold polluting corporations accountable for destructive, profit-first practices that contribute to the haze.
This campaign by Greenpeace Malaysia, presented by creative agency Studio Birthplace and artist-led initiative Splash and Burn, features works by prominent artists and activists such as Ernest Zacharevic, Cloakwork, Pangrok Sulap, Kai Yi Wong, Fahmi Reza, Trina Teoh, Trexus, and Bibichun.
The exhibition has a strong focus on transboundary haze, or haze that crosses national borders – for example, when peat fires in Indonesia are responsible for the air pollution in Malaysia.
In 2022, Southeast governments united to sign an Asean agreement on transboundary haze pollution, but Malaysia has yet to follow up on this by implementing domestic laws on haze issues within its borders.
Speaking with FMT, Zacharevic said he hopes the exhibition, which he also curated, would inspire people to take on a “positive tone” in discussions on transboundary haze.
“We need to have creative conversations that inspire people to take action, to see how they can contribute to resolving this issue in their daily lives,” he said.
Things may seem a little smoky upon stepping foot into the venue, but don’t worry, it’s normal. The Haze Room is permeated by a water-vapour-based fog, which wafts through the hall to simulate blurry conditions.
Unlike actual haze, it’s non-toxic and completely safe.
Visitors access the main exhibition area by walking through the Haze Corridor, a brightly lit, elevated tunnel created by artist Kai Yi Wong. Data from the history of haze in Malaysia is displayed. Did you know that in October 2010, the highest API recorded (432!) was in Muar, Johor, with 170 schools forced to close?
According to Zacharevic, many of the artworks here were street murals and public art that were only displayed for a while before having to be taken down. This exhibition has preserved them, and is presenting them all under one roof for the public to view and learn from.
Do check out “Caution: Jerebu is Coming Back” by Fahmi Reza. This stark yellow mural was displayed on a building in Jalan Tan Cheng Lock for three days before being completely painted over.
Other highlights are a captivating collection of protest posters by indigenous artist collective Pangrok Sulap, and “Haze Maze” by Zacharevic and art studio Trexus.
This collaborative art piece was based on a Greenpeace photograph of Orang Rimba people being displaced from their homes because of plantation expansion, a major cause of haze pollution.
Another of Zacharevic’s works is “Transboundary Haze”, a huge mural featuring words and squares on a Scrabble board. The aim of this piece, he said, was to literally spell out the dangers of haze.
“I wanted to highlight this problem as directly as possible, without metaphors. All this should all be a part of everyday vocabulary,” added the Lithuanian artist, who is primarily based in Penang.
“Haze: Coming Soon” will also be screening “Haze-zilla”, a satirical short film about corporate greed and environmental destruction, written and directed by Abilash Chandra.
Meanwhile, Greenpeace Southeast Asia regional campaign strategist Heng Kiah Chun recommended that visitors stop by the special Call to Action booth, where they can learn practical steps to combat the haze problem. This includes signing a petition for the creation of a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.
Heng said efforts are indeed underway to deal with this recurring environmental issue. In 2021, Greenpeace Malaysia and several other civil groups filed a landmark complaint with the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam), petitioning for systemic solutions to the haze crisis.
In response, Suhakam planned a roundtable discussion with experts, and was reportedly crafting recommendations for the government.
“The haze is a man-made disaster which could have been prevented, and the government can take immediate action against it,” Heng pointed out, citing the establishment of a domestic transboundary haze law to ensure Malaysian companies operate responsibly.
“As citizens, we can help by monitoring upcoming parliamentary sessions, and by urging our MPs to table motions to enact these laws.”
‘Haze: Coming Soon’ runs until Sunday, May 14. Admission is free.
80, Jalan Sultan,