Since the reform era started in September 1998 where the political crisis started with the dismissal of Anwar Ibrahim as deputy prime minister by the then prime minister, Dr Mahathir, it sparked mass protests by the people. Protests come in many forms. Among the biggest are the road demonstrations that are held every day.
Then the number of participants is increasing day by day, especially on weekends. They expressed their feelings of protest and condemned Mahathir’s actions. Banners and banners inscribed with the words of the struggle decorated the public meeting.
‘Undur Mahathir!’, ‘Hidup Rakyat!’, and ‘Reformasi!’ are slogans often chanted by the protesters.
At that time the internet was not widespread yet. No smartphone with wide reach. All information is referred to printed materials such as weekly newspapers and pamphlets, also using cassette tapes, and video tapes. That was the way information was disseminated at the time since mainstream media such as TV and newspapers obscured everything. In addition to printed pamphlets, the reformers printed T-shirts, stickers, hats, and sashes to sell and wear as demonstrations.
By using print media this is another method of resistance. Artists who use paper and ink to fight fuel the spirit of fighting. Poems, drawings, paintings, cartoons, and graphic works on the theme of protest appeared on the battlefield shelling the government. These artists opened another line of struggle in addition to road rallies and distribution of tapes.
Poets like Dinsman are among those who actively produce poems and poems against. The poem titled “Like a Madman” by Dinsman was quite popular at that time in criticizing Mahathir’s leadership.
Then appeared performance activists such as Hishamuddin Rais with young children creating theaters such as Tok Ampoo, Tok Sloo, and others. On the lecture stage they were invited to read their poems, perform their theater.
In the field of cartoons, the Zunar cartoonist’s fight against the Barisan Nasional government has never faded. In the early years of the reform many of his works were published in Harakah, a weekly newspaper owned by PAS.
Then Zunar headed Suara Keadilan newspaper. There, the political cartoon section is given wide space for young cartoonists who are constantly pouring out their works. Among them Enot, Haili, Jonos, and myself. Then this team of cartoonists took a bolder step to publish a monthly political cartoon magazine. In September 2009, the first issue of a magazine titled Gedung Kartun appeared which on the second day it was on the market, the magazine’s publishing office was raided by the Ministry of the Interior who seized it and then banned its publication.
The regular publication continues next month using the titles “Issu In Cartoon Vol 1”, “Issu In Cartoon Vol 2”, and “Issu In Cartoon Vol 3”. The pressure given to this publication was strong enough that distributors and sellers were also warned by the authorities not to sell it. Failure to do so will result in legal action.
The publication of this magazine failed to survive but its leader Zunar continued to work despite being arrested several times.
Graphic artist, Fahmi Reza to this day continues to produce satirical works satirizing the rulers. Unlike other cartoonists who are seen in favor of Pakatan Harapan, Fahmi Reza ‘concerns’ both of them both Barisan Nasional and Pakatan Harapan. Mahathir, Hadi Awang, Anwar, Lim Guan Eng were all victims of Fahmi. The graphics are attractive by using certain logos or symbols, interspersed with funny statements from the political leader. Fahmi’s satirical work received great responses from political fans.
Fahmi Reza himself has been up and down the police station and the court because people who are not happy with his work reported to the police.
Today, social media is no longer under control. Many sites were born with protest works. Graphics, photo collages, and dialogues criticizing the government and political parties appeared in abundance. Similarly, in videos on YouTube, Tik Tok, so many sketches, and dramas in the form of political satire appeared.
Artists are increasingly daring to use their skills and talents to criticize current issues and political developments. This is very welcome because showing taste through art is faster to absorb and capture. Satire reaches people’s imagination more easily because it is delivered with a humorous but poisonous tone. These images stick in the reader’s mind longer.
The work of artists is always needed to be a weapon to criticize government policies and plans. In short, artists and employees are able to be ‘opposition’, educate the people through their work and produce works that represent the voice of the people. That’s why artists and employees should be free and not bound to support any party in voicing their work.
Artists and employees should be the eyes and ears of the people, not colluding with dirty politics, not apologizing, or supporting blindly, but instead should feel the talents and skills bestowed upon them are the responsibility of fellow human beings.
Artists must be heroes, not spoilers!