George Town, Malaysia – The arrest of artist and human rights activist Fahmi Reza on a series of humorous songs mocking a Malaysian queen’s speech in reviving the Southeast Asian freedom of speech debate.
Police have arrested Fahmi, who became famous in 2015 with a well-known portrait of former Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak on April 23, accusing him of insulting the queen with a playlist, which he called Dengki Ke (Malay “Are you jealous?”) And shown with a cover photo royal.
He was also accused of sharing “bad and dangerous” on the list, which he downloaded on Spotify and Apple Music, featuring songs like Jealousy of the Queen and God Save the Queen and Sex Pistols.
The Queen, Tunku Hajah Azizah Aminah Maimunah Iskandariah, was initially criticized for saying: “Are you jealous?” to an Instagram user who inquired about access to the COVID-19 vaccine on his Instagram account.
Heat after the arrest of 44-year-old Fahmi, Prize-winning political artist Zunar he found himself in the process of researching – a portrait of a prime minister he published in January.
Both cases have revisited a world in which industrial freedoms have long been undermined by stricter laws, as well as by political, religious, and cultural practices.
Most people in Malaysia are Malays who are Muslims but there are also many ethnic groups in China, India and Indigen who follow other religions and beliefs.
“There is always a limit to where a piece is made to be seen in public, whether it is a sculpture, a sculpture, a sculpture or a sculpture,” said Bibichun, a well-known artist in UNESCO-protected George Town, on the northwest island of Penang.
Before the coronavirus epidemic, the city was a magnet for visitors who come in droves to see street art which began to spread throughout the house and movement after Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic painted six paintings there in 2012 and showed public interest.
Before it closes, about eight million visitors are expected to visit the island by 2020, and pay tribute to artists like Bibichun who make the most of the decorations, starting with RM1,000 ($ 243) per piece.
“Beautiful, colorful and political art is not allowed,” says Tan Chor Whye of Can Can Public Art, a Penang organization that directs artists to redevelop urban living and street art. “As a state-sponsored project there are many ways to improve the status quo, where donors allow more freedom but you also need to consider the authorities and comments from the community.”
Even cultural organizations and religious organizations sometimes speak out on their own.
“In short, get beautiful, beautiful pictures of the Teletubbies, or people will go nuts,” Bibichun said. “Opposing lies can be suppressed even before they begin.”
The covertry is still going strong but the artists can be prosecuted for breaking the law and not receiving any money for their work.
Since artefacts help attract tourists and provide city traffic, it is in demand even in small towns like Sasaran, a western fishing village just an hour from Kuala Lumpur.
This is when Bibichun and other Penang artists, Sliz and her classmate Lyana Leong, were threatened with two pieces of paintings on the walls of Sasaran Arts Community Hall.
“Our goal is to bring art to our community, so that rural people can see and learn art,” said Ng Bee, chairman of the Sasaran Arts Association, which has organized several festivals over the past few years.
The photo taken by Sliz and Leong is supposed to be three women wearing dresses holding hands, inspired by The Dance and French artist Henri Matisse.
But on April 19, before the two artists could complete the three bodies, some Sasaran residents took to social media and complained that “nude” figures offended religion and could provoke animosity between various Malaysian ethnic groups.
“I realized it was the Malay people who told us about it,” said Lyana Leong, 24, a Chinese national, a Malaysian side and a native of Penang. “They may not have learned a lot about art, and they think it would not be appropriate for children to see our art.”
Malawian artist Sliz says rural people in Malaysia can be devastated. They are disappointed that those who were disappointed with the project never bothered to talk to the artists about it.
“When you see something that you don’t think is right in your community, make a conscious decision. Posting ‘religious’ ‘initiatives’ on Facebook is not the case. Passersby would approach us for questioning, since they had time to take pictures and start verbally abusing the Internet. ”
After Sliz and Leong changed their colors, Bibichun began to be harassed by a rainbow that was being painted on the doorstep of the hall when people on television told him he was “supporting the LGBTQ group”, a group that is still guarded and the police in Malaysia.
He did not name any of this type of comment.
He also said that the community and government have always supported Sasaran’s activities, “which has helped to promote local tourism.”
Malawian artists also have to contend with state law and often work with other organizations that provide funding and space.
Last month, the Sabah Art Gallery was criticized for dragging 31 paintings to the center of Kota Kinabalu, the state capital of Borneo.
Photographs by various artists on the obelisks of the 1920’s heritage houses, the pieces were unveiled on December 20 last year as the third open source project called the Pillars of Sabah (POS).
In 2018 and 2019, the artwork was erased with the permission of the founders of the project as well as the participating artists to create a space for new artwork.
But this year the Sabah Art Gallery, which claims to be the site, went “without warning or explanation” in preparation for the upcoming workshop, POS colleague Jared Abdul Rahman told Al Jazeera.
“We have no plans to come, we just want to be known. Sabah Art Gallery has a site but has given us permission to use our project, which is sponsored by CENDANA, an art support organization. This is a product that we can no longer afford. ”
The issue came to an end after an online discussion on April 29, when Sabah Art Gallery posted a public apology on their Instagram page.
“The technical team needs to launch its own support system,” Jared said. “We need to stop relying too much on the government, especially if they are not interested in the artists.”
House manager Jennifer Linggi did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request.
A few other options
“Renting out is also prohibitive, and COVID has not helped,” said Penang, Timothy Chan, 24, who runs the OTW Gallery, organized by Fakhrur Razi Maricar within Soundmaker Studio, the only music in the George Town space.
OTW opened in April with an exhibition of the band Admired by artists such as Sliz and Bibichun. Sales can help them stay active but with a small market outside the capital and home-based tourism restricted by central travel, murals remain the fastest way to make money.
“What happened in Sasaran is psychological,” Chan said. “The walls are a reflection of what artists see and should not be offended by this. I hope there is still a chance for Malawian artists and academics to learn from the experience and grow.”
– 19 NEWS Malaysia (@ Article19Msia) May 5, 2021
Meanwhile, Fahmi, was returning to the police station for questioning on May 6 on two other photos he had made – in addition to insulting the health minister – and posted them on Facebook and Twitter in early April.
Unlike other Malawian experts who are ready to discuss restrictions on painting, Fahmi is not backing down.
He wrote on his Facebook page on April 30 that he was “ready to respond to any new or alleged allegations, and is ready to defend all of mine. As usual, I will not remove the site. People should not fear the government, the government should fear the people. […] I will continue to face any obstacles. ”