Selamat Hari Merdeka! 62 years ago, we achieved Independence from colonial rule. It’s the most important day in the Malaysian calendar, because it’s one of only two days (the other being Malaysia Day) we come together as a nation – as one people – in shared joy and celebration.
On May 9th 2018, came arguably the most significant event in our nation’s history since September 1963. After over six decades of unbroken rule by the same government, voters made the brave decision to give new leadership a chance.
From May 10 onwards, we were told our country was now ‘Malaysia Baru’. It was supposed to be a new dawn and a new opportunity to make a better nation, and better people of ourselves.
But 14 months on, the lustre has dulled a little. We seem to have gone back to our petty racial and religious battles, our gutter politics, our usual state of corruption … you’re a Between The Lines reader – you know what we’re talking about.
This Merdeka, we thought we’d do a bit of soul searching, but in a slightly different way. Instead of throwing a whole bunch of text at you, we decided to ask artists and cartoonists to share their take on the state of the nation. Our brief was straightforward – Malaysia Baru vs Malaysia Lama: What’s Changed?
Here’s what they came up with (PRO-TIP: If you’re viewing this on your phone, flip it around to horizontal mode for best effect).
An artist who needs no introduction, Zunar has been skewering Malaysian politics for decades. A well-known figure of the Reformasi movement of the late 90s, Zunar became a household name through his political cartoons for Malaysiakini.
Zunar’s commentary for his cartoon is simple: Merdeka or not?
Artist and journalist Darsh Kanda usually takes her cues from nature, where she has an obsession with fish. She hardly draws humans, but makes an exception for our Merdeka piece.
Here’s her commentary for this piece, called The Bind: ‘Malaysia Lama’ makes me think of my high school years, when I first became politically aware. Anwar was sacked by Dr M and with their kids attending my school, my alma mater became a political battleground, with students and even teachers taking sides.
Yet, it felt like we were more united as a whole. In Malaysia Baru, the same politicians are back – yet the binds that hold us together, the promise of a united Malaysia, are fraying and threatens to break if something isn’t done.
Cheeming Boey is Malaysian animator/author best known for his art on foam cups and his childhood stories series When I Was A Kid. He is also handsome (or so he tells us!).
Here’s Boey’s commentary for his cartoon: I don’t believe in change overnight. Politicians will say what needs to be said to win a vote – that’s their job.
For the rest of Malaysia, the issue of corruption is still very real. At the end of the day, the change has to start from education and from when we are young. The bribe (in the picture) could have been requested, or given. It takes everyone to stop corruption.
Caryn Koh is a doctor who gave up a career in medicine to follow her passion in visual art. Best known for her Sekolah illustrations, the UK-based artist’s work has also appeared as murals in places like Bacalod City, the Philippines and Penang’s Hin Bus Depot Art Centre.
Caryn calls this piece Janji & Harapan, and this is her artist’s statement: Malaysia Baru; the voices of the people are heard, a new government takes the helm of the country as we look forward to new possibilities and positive changes. But are we being too hopeful? As we continue to observe, awaiting transformation; are these empty promises?
Writer and cartoonist Sukhbir Cheema is the co-founder of Malaysia’s first and only art-centric content website, Eksentrika, which he runs with his wife, Ista Kyra. He’s also a full time stay at home dad to a little mischievous dragon (which would make him Father of Dragons!).
Here’s what he has to say about his cartoon: We live in funny times. The Muslim fears the cross while the non Muslim fears anything that resembles the Arabic language. Why do we fear each other so much?