This is something I started in response to the detention of Maria Chin Abdullah, Chairperson of Bersih 2.0. Bersih is a movement for free and fair elections in Malaysia. Maria was arrested on 18 Nov 2016 under SOSMA (Security Offenses Special Measures Act 2012), a cruel and draconian law that allows for detention without trial. She is being held in an undisclosed location, in a 15 x 8ft windowless cell, in solitary confinement.
I am posting these to my Facebook page, but I will archive them here too, to be accessible across platforms. In descriptions of the artwork, I provide Malay translations in blue.
– 15 x 8ft area on the floor marked with baracade tape and black tarpaulin sheet. Inside the area: 2 torchlights, 2 placards listing the conditions of Maria’s detention + SOSMA = KEZALIMAN. Outside the area: Placard with title and instructions to the public. Only one person to enter at a time \\ Kain tarpaulin hitam seluas 15 x 8 kaki atas lantai, tepinya pita rintangan hitam-kuning. Di dalam: 2 lampu suluh, papan tanda huraikan keadaan tahanan Maria yang teruk dan SOSMA = KEZALIMAN. Di luar: Papan tanda dengan tajuk karya dan arahan untuk audiens.
– Let people experience with their own bodies the condition of solitary confinement \\ Biar audiens rasakan dengan tubuh mereka sendiri keadaan tahanan berseorangan
– Tap into, subvert selfie culture – people are invited to take photos of themselves in that 15 x 8ft space \\ Gunapakai budaya selfie – audiens ambil gambar di ruang 15 x 8 kaki itu dan sebarkan online
You are welcome to take part in One Artwork A Day Until Maria is Released challenge. Drawings, songs, poems, fiction, concept art, performance, photos, anything.
\\ Sekiranya mau terima cabaran Satu Karya Setiap Hari Sehingga Maria Bebas, silakan. Lukisan, lagu, puisi, cerpen, konsep, persembahan, foto, apa saja.
Created for Festival Filem Meowlaysia 1, Malaysia’s first Cat Video Festival, which premiered at Art For Grabs on 24 Sept 2016. Here is the story in BM and English, with notes and tips at the end (in case you want to make your own).
Ini kucing belaan kami. Nama dia Mini-PSB.
Bulu hitam, bontot pink. Ekor pendek sahaja. Seperti udang yang dikupas kulitnya, sudah busuk lalu ditumbuhi kulapuk beroma.
Boleh kata kami berdua manusia belaan si dia.
This is a cat’s butt. So pink!
Sometimes – because our cat is so black – when she has her back to us her butt is the only detail we can pick out.
This is our cat. She is black, and has a stub-tail. Her tail is like a fishhook, or a cooked prawn, that has gone busuk and sprouted black fungus fur. When our cat is nervous her cooked-prawn tail twitches-twitches-twitches.
Our cat is called Mini-PSB.
Rumah kami sering dikunjungi kucing liar. Banyak sangat, sampai kena guna nama kod.
Yang ni adik kepada yang tu. Yang tu, boyfriend kepada yang ni. And so on. Ada yang seekor tu, nama kod dia PSB: Penyu’s Sister’s Boyfriend.
Kucing hitam. Dia ni selalu resah gelisah. Gementar. Kalau nampak kami intai dia, dia cemas. Cepat-cepat lari.
Explain for you, okay? Our house in Port Dickson attracts a lot of strays. We name our strays after cats we used to have.
This is Penyu’s Sister. She was a white cat with a grey-stained face, and she looked like a cat called Penyu, a cat we used to have.
Penyu’s Sister had a boyfriend. We called him Penyu’s Sister’s Boyfriend, or PSB. He was a tail-less black cat, quite small.
He was a very, very shy cat. He only ever came to visit at night. We’d see him creep up the driveway – and then he’d see us, spying on him. He’d freeze. And then he’d zoom off.
Nama Mini-PSB sebab rupa dia bulat-bulat macam PSB. Tapi saiz mini sedikit.
Dia ni pun cemas-cemas. Dah bersama kami setahun. Dari kecik lagi. Tapi masih takut manusia. Baru hari tu I jumpa dia duduk kat depan pintu.
Rasa macam nak bermanja dengan dia. Jadi I sentuh kaki dia. Dia panik! Kuku dia keluar. Dia cakar kaki I, calar sampai berdarah-darah.
Mini-PSB looks like a miniature, female version of PSB. We used to feed her mum, and her mum abandoned her here.
She is just as shy as her namesake. She is scared of humans. She’s lived with us for more than a year. But sometimes, if we aren’t careful, aren’t mindful enough to announce our presence, we spook her.
She jumps! Her hook-tail puffs! Her claws come out and scratch-scritch-scratches the floor as she runs.
More than once she’s run in between our feet and sliced open our toes.
Sebelum Mini-PSB kami ada bela kucing lain. Tiga sekawan, adik beradik.
First sekali, Pingu: kucing hitam-putih, macam burung penguin. Dia ni suka duduk dalam pasu, dalam tong sampah.
Yang kedua, Prospero: dia ni suka panjat kat dapur. Habis pecah botol, pecah gelas semua.
Ketiga, Lord Nelson: yang paling cool sekali. Bulu dia panjang, perangai dia zen. Suara dia kecil: iu iu~
Before Mini-PSB, we had three cats, our catly trinity:
Pingu the silly, with his tuxedo and propensity for sitting in rubbish bins; Prospero the fat-bellied, who loved pushing glass things off shelves; and Lord Nelson, coolest and fluffiest, tufts of fur between his fingers.
Lord Nelson teman Sharon tiap malam apabila bekerja di studio. Dia ni baik hati. Steady. Tapi mati diserang anjing liar di kawasan sekolah, belakang rumah kami.
Satu hari Pingu keluar rumah, tapi tak balik-balik.
Prospero yang first sekali hilang. Bila dia hilang, kami ada buat notis, lekat kat serata taman. “ADA NAMPAK KUCING KAMI?” Kucing kesayangan kami. Masih rindu kat dia.
HOW WE LOST THE CATLY TRINITY
Once, Pingu got stuck up a tree. He wandered off and never came home.
Lord Nelson would sleep in the studio, keeping Sharon company as she worked through the night. He died to a pack of straw dogs living in the school next to our house.
Prospero was the first to go. We printed out “HAVE YOU SEEN OUR CAT?” flyers. Somebody called us, saying they saw her. It wasn’t her.
Kucing kami yang keempat, nama dia Chicken. Sebab jumpa dia kat tengah-tengah main road kat pekan Port Dickson. Nasib Sharon tak langgar!
Chicken ni gila. Betul! Perangai dia ada dua mode. Mode pertama: tidur, tak bangun-bangun.
Mode kedua: gila degil nak mampus. Cakar-cakar, gigit-gigit. Teruk I diseksa. Sampai tahap rasa macam nak buang dia.
Our fourth cat was called Chicken. She was a dirty calico with crazy eyes.
She was called Chicken because we found her as a kitten in the middle of the main road. Sharon almost ran her over. When Sharon stopped the car Chicken climbed into the engine. We had to see a mechanic to get her out.
Chicken was legit crazy. She had two modes. Murderous – to toes, fingers, soft-toy mice; and dead-to-the-world asleep.
Tapi dia mati dulu. Jangkitan Feline panleukopenia virus, atau FPV.
Virus ni menyerang sistem pencernaan. Usus-usus dia lebur dibaham penyakit itu. Muntah-muntah, mati kesakitan.
Jenazah Chicken dibalut pakej empat segi, tapi ada satu kaki terkeluar, macam drumstick. Doktor kata sebab kaki dia ni degil sangat. Oh, Chicken.
HOW WE LOST CHICKEN
Chicken died of feline distemper. She caught it, fighting other strays.
The virus attacks a cat’s digestive tract, dissolves its intestinal lining. A cat dies starving, and in pain.
We cried when Chicken died. We buried her underneath our mangosteen tree. I dug her grave myself.
Penyu kucing kami yang kelima. Pagi itu, Sharon jumpa dia dalam rumah. Mengiau lapar. “Hello,” katanya. “I lapar. Makanan di mana?”
Lepas makan, dia akan mengorek-ngorek keliling mangkuk. Macam nak menyimpan makanan yang berlebihan.
I ada baca: perangai ni sering dilihat pada anak kucing yang kebuluran.
Penyu was a kitten who Sharon found indoors, one morning. “Hello,” it said. “I’m here now. Please feed me.”
Sharon tried to kick it out, but it kept re-appearing. “Hello,” it’d say. “Please feed me.”
It was mangy and starving. After eating at its bowl of kibble, it’d paw around the sides, as if trying to bury the food. Later, I read that this behaviour is common in strays, when food is hard to come by.
So Sharon fed her, and we named her Penyu, and that was that.
PENYU MASIH ADA
Satu pagi Penyu hilang. Entah kemana, tak pulang-pulang.
Tapi roh dia masih ada. Tiap malam sebelum tidur, di ruang antara bantal kami, tempat dia selalu lelap. Semangat dia masih di ruang itu.
Pingu dalam pasunya. Prospero di rak dapur. Lord Nelson di dalam studio. Chicken pengsan tengah-tengah lantai, tak bangun-bangun.
One morning Penyu left, and didn’t come home.
She is still with us, though.
Whenever we go to bed, we look at the gap between our pillows, that little nook in the middle there, and we see her white furry body. Her head, heavy-lidded, slowly nodding off, as she always did. Purring, purring.
Lord Nelson in his corner, Prospero on her shelf, Pingu in his bin. Chicken, conked out, belly up, sleeping.
KEMANA KUCING MATI PERGI?
Syurga untuk kucing macam mana?
I rasa tempat itu penuh dengan flora berbentuk tangan manusia. Jadi bila kucing lalu dia akan sentiasa dibelai.
I rasa tempat itu ada tikus, burung dan serangga kecil. Ada tupai dan cicak. Takut-takut, tapi tak mati-mati. Dijadikan mainan si comel. Sebab kucing ni memang haiwan kejam.
I rasa tempat itu mesti ada hasil-hasil laut yang disediakan atas dulang emas, ikan dan udang yang berbau tapi tak pernah busuk.
THE CAT AFTERLIFE
What is the heaven for cats like?
There must be rows of catnip, and fields to frolic in, with green grass shaped like human hands. The grass will scratch you behind your ears if you lay in it.
There must be stocks of mice and hopping birds; insects, squirrels, lizards. These must be afraid and immortal. Because cats are really quite evil.
There must be wet kibble served on silver spittoons that never goes dry and stinky.
BONTOT PINK LAGI
Mini-PSB sudah lompat atas meja, depan komputer, atas papan kekunci. Dah memanggil-manggil, mengiau-ngiau manja.
Jadi kami berhenti di sini, okay? Sorry. Faham-faham la kan? Si kucing ni tak boleh ditidakkan.
Mini-PSB has climbed on our keyboard, a sign we should stop now, and pay attention to her.
So we have to, you know? Sorry and bye-bye.
NOTES & TIPS
1. I saw these two animations on the internet. Both times, I turned to Zedeck and said: let’s make something like this, give ourselves 3 – 4 days limit, see what comes out!
The first is by master Iranian animator Noureddin Zarrinkelk:
The second is ‘Bat and Hat’ by Becky James:
2. Hazri Haili and Amanda Nell Eu asked us to be part of Festival Filem Meowlaysia, so we decided to make something about our cats. Zedeck wrote a script, and I did a rough storyboard:
3. For each scene, I drew the background first, then the moving elements, or ‘assets’, which were cut out. The backgrounds I did in color pencil, and the assets with crayon so they would stand out.
4. I did everything freehand, no sketches. This was hard, because I am a perfectionist. But I like the result of my imperfect hand making imperfect marks.
5. This is the DIY lightbox we made. We taped Zedeck’s Samsung phone to the the top of the box which had a hole cut in it. To animate, we moved the assets a little, took a picture, and repeated until we got the motion we wanted. Afterwards we put together the photos in Photoshop and made animated GIFs. Here is a simple tutorial on how to make animated GIFs in Photoshop. If you don’t have Photoshop, you can use Gimp, which is free and open source.
6. Some advice from our friend Choen Lee: use LED bulbs instead of normal fluorescent bulbs, and you won’t get the different coloured stripes you can see in the GIFs above.
7. Here is Zedeck performing ‘Bontot Jambu/Pink Butt’ at Festival Filem Meowlaysia 1. He read the story in BM while the animated GIFs played on screen.
Can’t believe we made this silly thing. So happy we did.
On 8 Sept 2016, a reporter from Malay Mail Online contacted me on Whatsapp. He’d gotten my contact through a friend I trust and respect. He wanted to do a story about political art, focusing on the contradictions when artists collude with the establishment despite making anti-establishment artwork. When I told him I live in Port Dickson, he suggested an email interview, to which I agreed. This is what transpired:
1) This reporter did not write to me from an official MMO email address, but a personal one.
2) He sent me a series of basic questions, to which I replied in detail, with links that I contextualized and summarized.
3) When I requested that he be specific in his questions, he stated he had no specific questions to ask.
4) I replied that the generalist critique would have to address how every human on earth is currently compromised by power and capital, because ‘art, like journalism, or medicine or international aid, is not separate from the social conditions that produce it’, that such a conversation was beyond this interview, and once again requested specific questions to respond to for the purposes of his piece.
5) In a one-two of self-justification and professional insult, he defended journalism’s complicity in the status quo because it is more ‘relevant and accessible to the common people’ than art.
6) I told this reporter that if he had no specific questions, I had no more to say. He followed up with a question about my position on commercial galleries to which I replied at length. He also asked for my permission to quote, which I gave, indicating that the entire email exchange was on the record. I have attached these emails in full at the end of this post.
7) Zedeck, my partner, upon reading our emails, felt outraged on my behalf, and posted a rant on his Facebook detailing our exchange. I did not stop him from doing so. He does not name the reporter, but identifies him as being from the Malay Mail Online. This is Zedeck’s post:
8) The reporter identifies himself in a comment on the post, and over the course of several hours, posts a series of insults, gendered slurs and veiled threats. He scolds Zedeck and myself for revealing what he deems a ‘private conversation’. In fact, earlier, he referred to our interview in a Facebook post (now deleted), giving me credit for being an artist who cops to her middle class privilege, ‘something you cant say about the rest of em sadly’. This is the post:
9) He exchanges private messages with Zedeck and posts the screenshots of this actual private conversation on his Facebook. This is the post:
10) Overnight, he deletes the comments he left on Zedeck’s original post.
11) As of writing, he is threatening us with a police report and legal action.
I want to make clear that I believe these events are reflective only of the actions of one individual and in no way representative of the Malay Mail Online and how they operate.
This exchange is still ongoing and no doubt will blow over – if it hasn’t already! – to be replaced by some other social media storm in a teacup. Personally, I am deeply irritated at having to spend my limited human time on a ridiculous spat, which creates nothing of use but more clicks and views that drive up Facebook’s valuation.
I have the highest regard for journalists and their work. Having tried my hand at independent journalism, I appreciate the craft, labour and difficulty in navigating the ethics and moral positions of reporting on other people – especially in these times, when anyone may disrupt your narrative even before you’ve had a chance to construct it.
The power of forming a narrative about the world and other people is a huge one to have. For better or for worse, the internet has given each of us a bit of that power, turning all of us into potential independent publishers. I bless the internet everyday for this reason, and I do my best to use it well. Who knows how long it will last.
If anything good can out come out of this kerfuffle, here is a commandment to everyone, and my fellow artists especially. Do with it what you will:
Write before you’re written about. Write about yourself, and if you can, write about your friends. Do not wait for other people to tell the narrative. Create a body of work and context around yourself that you can refer others back to when needed. Always treat journalists with respect, but a healthy dose of skepticism. Question their agendas. The good ones are here with a specific job to do, the bad ones can harm and misrepresent you. They are not your friends, and they’re not meant to be.
This is documentation of the email exchange between myself and the reporter:
Image: Detail from Local Fauna linocut series, 2016.
Here is a taste of what I’ve been working on for the past few weeks, in a little attic studio at the top of Hotel Penaga, where I’ve been artist/parasite-in-residence since mid-May.
These linocut illustrations for Zedeck’s ‘Local Fauna’ story collection have been in progress for two years. I checked the date of the very first sketch I made, and it was 2 Dec 2014:
In 2015, we pasted the first 10 linocut designs that I finished on bus stops around Jalan Pudu, and later some of them were collected in Little Basket, the new anthology of Malaysian writing published by Fixi Novo.
Now, I’m at 20 linocut designs, and we printed editions of all of them! There is no part of these prints that my (and Zedeck’s) hands haven’t touched. We pulled them by hand, with pitch-black oil-based ink on handmade Thai mulberry paper, and a ton of elbow grease. Both ink and paper are beautiful. I caught myself wondering if making linocuts was just a way to show off the raw beauty of those age-old materials… you get weird thoughts during the long hours of printmaking.
So we are doing an exhibition! It’s at Run Amok Gallery in Georgetown, which is an art space and collective run by friends we love. It opens tomorrow. There are 20 linocuts, and we’re selling some editions to raise funds for a book. Yes, we are making a book, tentatively called ‘Local Flora, Local Fauna’. It will have 50 animal stories and 25 plant stories by Zedeck, and each of them will have an illustration by me… so 20 linocuts down, 55 to go…
Here are some of the prints in the exhibition. Interested in buying a print? Email info AT runamok DOT my for the full catalog. We’re taking international orders too.