Zunar, Zacharevic, Fahmi and Namewee are household names.
They are artists who excel in their chosen professions. But they have also been targeted by the authorities because they have one thing in common: their bravery. They refuse to be cowed or intimidated. They carry our burdens on their shoulders.
Zunar is Malaysia’s foremost political cartoonist. With a few strokes of his pen, he can depict our concerns. He has a large following, both in and outside of Malaysia. His books have been seized, his office raided and his staff hounded. His freedom was curtailed when the home ministry banned him from travelling overseas.
Why? They do this to prevent him from telling the world what is going on in Malaysia.
How? When overseas, Zunar is invited for talks and press conferences where he makes people laugh at the silly things which occur in our country on a daily basis.
Ernest Zacharevic is Malaysia’s version of Banksy, the world-famous graffiti artist. Zacharevic may be Lithuanian, but for the past few years, he has been based in Penang where he helped energise the local arts scene. His works are also seen in Ipoh and Johor.
Zacharevic does not just engage with his surroundings. More importantly, he also engages with the local population. He empathises with us while articulating our concerns.
The whitewashing of his Lego graffiti characters in Johor Bahru, intended to show the public’s perception of rising levels of crime in the state, helped increase his fame. The act only served to confirm the opinion of many, that most negative things are simply “covered up” or swept under the carpet.
Zacharevic was barred from entering Malaysia earlier this year on his attempted return from Singapore. No reason was given.
Last week, Fahmi Reza, the graphic designer and artist, was sentenced to one month’s jail and fined RM30,000 for his caricature of the prime minister as a clown.
Within 18 hours of starting a campaign to help pay the fine, Fahmi raised well over the amount needed. Fahmi has managed to portray our feelings with his art, and the public’s rapid response shows that Malaysians refuse to be silenced or intimidated.
Namewee meanwhile is a rapper, communicating effectively with Malaysia’s youth through the language of music and hip hop.
His latest music video, “Like a Dog”, has earned him another encounter with the law. However, he never targeted any specific part of the community – the police reports which claim he did are disingenuous.
Namewee is the perfect entertainer and satirist, with a sound business acumen. The authorities’ response of arresting him has only increased his fame – he no longer needs to pay a public relations company to promote his music!
These four men are not politicians, nor do they belong to any opposition party or social activism group. However, they are not afraid to speak out against injustice, intolerance and corruption.
They don’t use words, or write long rambling essays about wrongdoings in Malaysia. They have little need for language to outline the many issues in this country. Instead, they use their craft, or break out into song and dance, to paint a picture of what has gone wrong in our nation.
Mariam Mokhtar is an FMT columnist.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.