Sometimes an indication of dissatisfaction can come in waves of yellow t-shirts (or red) flooding the streets of Kuala Lumpur. Other times, it comes in forms of creative performances and artworks. We take a look at six ways that Malaysians have protested creatively in recent years.
Mark Teh’s “Sudden Death” Performance Protest
In 2009, theatre director and arts educator Mark Teh came up with a participatory performance called “Sudden Death,” in memory of the ‘political death’ of Teoh Beng Hock who had died in police custody in the same year. Participants who were interested to participate were to light a candle for Teoh Beng Hock and lie on the ground on their right side, in the same position that Teoh had died in.
Besides paying respect to the late Teoh, Teh also used this performance to highlight the many deaths of individuals in custody from 2003 – 2009 and underline the fact that Teoh had simply ceased to exist and became an abstract concept to Malaysians.
Malaysian Spring was formed with the simple objective to help people get in touch with their democratic power. It was founded by architect Ng Seksan in 2013 and it quickly grabbed the people’s attentions with their simple and small gesture of planting ‘flowers’ to spread a message of hope and change. These flowers were in fact, mini flags that were planted all around Malaysia in the same year prior to GE13.
Kuala Lumpur City Hall (DBKL) had made their rounds to dismantle these flags from some areas. However, these efforts did not dampen Malaysians’ spirits as the multi-coloured flags were quickly replanted. This year, more flowers bloomed in the lead up to Bersih 4. According to their website, a total of 203748 flowers had been planted all around Malaysia since they started the project.
Merdeka Park protest
Merdeka Park (which was also referred to as Tunku Park) was demolished in the late ’90s and is currently acting as the grounds for a skyscraper project called Warisan Merdeka/KL118, which aims to be the highest building in Malaysia by its completion date in 2020. Ever since Merdeka Park’s demolition, it has since become the symbol of protest against the new multi-billion ringgit development.
The protest (set up in 2013) was mainly done in visual arts form, with posters, street art and most notably, a “pop up park” just outside the construction site. Graphic designer and political activist Fahmi Reza was among those leading the mini occuptation. Among the posters read “Have you seen this mushroom?” (referring to the iconic mushroom-shaped concrete structure in Merdeka Park) and “Tempat ini untuk cendawan, bukan hartawan!” (“This place is for mushrooms and not business tycoons!”) More recently, Fahmi has been working on a colouring book of Malaysian politicians.
Ohsum Mossum Terrarium – Mosslotov Cocktail & Demosstrasi Terrariums
Ohsum Mossum Terrariums, a business led by bedroom producer Ronnie Khoo, has created two sets of terrariums in conjunction with Bersih 4.0. The Mosslotov Cocktail terrariums come in packs of living moss and customised demosstrator figurines with signboards that say “Undur,” “Tolak,” “Bangkit,” “Lawan” and “Bantah.”
Not content with these, Khoo also create two Demosstrasi terrariums including a figurine modelled after an iconic photo from Bersih 3.0, showing an activist trying to kick a tear-gas grenade. Both terrariums will be sold via auctions and half of the proceeds will go to causes which Khoo deems to advance social justice and democracy.
Yeoh Lian Heng’s M50 White Elephants
In 2013, as part of the M50 Malaysia Day art exhibition at Publika, artist Yeoh Lian Heng decided to take his art into the shopping mall itself. Throughout the mall, he placed standing “white elephants” with labels such as “KLIA 2”, “Indah Water”, “Indelible Ink”, “NFC” and “Smart Tunnel”.
A white elephant is a metaphor for a useless or troublesome thing that is expensive. Yeoh’s artwork was a response to bloated government owned or linked developments that cost a lot of money to maintain but whose real value was questionable. Earlier in the year, Yeoh had also protested the MRT developments by creating a large banner that was carried around the mall by citizens.
Sharon Chin’s I Sew Seditious Banner
In a protest against the Sedition Act in 2014, artist Sharon Chin created a hand-sewn banner, reading I SEW SEDITIOUS, which she carried in a protest organised by the Bar Council. As well as being a pun on the word “so / sew”, the embroidery is a contrast to the usual hard-edged graphics of protest placards.
The sewn banner seems to suggest that anything – even the quiet, domesticated act of sewing – can be construed as sedition, underlining the absurdity of the situation. The banner was later displayed and sold in a fundraising exhibition for SEED.
Read this next: Sketches from Bersih 4