To some (maybe even many) of ugaiz the name Fahmi Reza may not immediately ring a bell. But while you may not recognize the name, you’d definitely recognize his work:
Yep, Fahmi Reza is the artist who’s currently femes for his #KitaSemuaPenghasut movement, which features an illustration that looks like PM Najib decked out as a clown.
So here’s what happened – On Saturday, June 4th, after the first day of the KL Alternative Bookfest event in Publika. Fahmi was chilling at his booth after a long day selling his new coloring book and Penghasut merchandise when the police suddenly came in to arrest him.
A few floors down, another group of policemen swooped in on organizer Pang Khee Teik, activist Lew Pik-Svonn who was loading tshirts and stickers into her car, and comic book artist Arif Rafhan Othman who was just there to accompany them. All four were taken to the police station where they were questioned under the Sedition Act, and released at 3am the same day. You can click on the links in their names for their personal accounts of that night.
After his release, Fahmi stated on his Facebook page that the incident wouldn’t break his spirit to keep up the good fight:
“You can arrest me, arrest my friends, confiscate my stuff, detain me, interrogate me, charge me, put me on trial, take away my rights and try to shut me up, but you can’t keep me down. No matter how hard you try to push me down, I will always rise back up.” – Fahmi Reza, quoted from his Facebook post.
And true to his word, he was back to his stall at Publika on Sunday, even without anything to sell.
So yea, that’s what he did on Sunday; but since you’re already reading this, we figure we’d talk about some other stuff related to Fahmi as well because…
The following day, Fahmi was in court for hurting someone’s feelingsYep. On Monday, Fahmi appeared in court over the clown pictures – where he faced a charge under the Communications and Multimedia Act (CMA) for misusing the internet to upset other people. To clarify, this is unrelated to the Publika arrest… he was charged under the CMA back in February for the first clown picture which we’ll talk about later.
But why does this artist keep getting himself in trouble with the law?
For starters, Fahmi wasn’t always a designer or artist – he actually studied electrical engineering but taught himself graphic design to help out NGOs who couldn’t afford “real” designers. He was the person behind many of the Bersih posters, along with the Solidarity for Azmi Sharom and the Aminulrasyid Memorial Forum, along with his own personal art installations like this one called Najib’s Head Stolen from Billboard, which came with a video of him allegedly stealing Najib’s head…from a billboard.
But why politics? Well, we’ll let Fahmi explain it in his own words:
“I think it’s important for designers to ask what their role is to the public… To raise awareness about injustices happening in our society. For social change if possible. That is our strength. Activists have different roles — graphic designers are visual activists. – Fahmi Reza, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online.
According to the same Malay Mail Online interview, Fahmi considers himself to be an author instead of an artist – saying that how he presents a message isn’t as important as the message itself.
“It’s about the concept, the idea. It doesn’t matter if I draw straight or crooked if the audience can get the idea. …With posters, there’s only one interpretation. If there’s more than one, then that’s not a good poster.” – Fahmi Reza, as quoted by The Malay Mail Online.
Also, the “models” for his artwork aren’t just limited to our current PM. His latest project, a coloring book called ABC Politikus Malaysia (click here to see the full series) featured some Opposition politicians such as Wan Azizah (N for Nepotis), Mat Sabu (Y for Yolo), and Lim Kit Siang (E for Egomania). But our personal favorite was Dr. Mahathir’s, not so much for the entry itself, but because Fahmi presented it to Dr.M at Publika the same day he was arrested, opening it to D for…
To a certain extent, it almost seems like Fahmi Reza is his own art exhibition, using his notoriety and massive telurs to further spread his message. After all, how many of us would show up for a court case over the Najib clown picture carrying a Najib clown picture?
The more you try to stop something, the more popular it’ll become
What started as a simple doodle in response to the news that PM Najib was cleared of involvement in the RM 2.6 billion scandal eventually escalated into a full-blown movement that even surprised Fahmi himself. This might have been due to the Streisand Effect, where an attempt to hide, remove, or censor a piece of information unintentionally causes it to become more popular.
To a certain degree, the popularity of #KitaSemuaPenghasut might have been due to authorities attempts to stop it. Fahmi’s investigation under the Communications and Multimedia Act in February triggered other artists to come up with their own artwork, foreign media outlets to pick up the story, and inspired people to put up clown stickers everywhere.
And funny enough, the investigation itself happened because Ali Tinju – whom you may remember as one of the organizers of the Red Shirt Rally, the guy delivering racial speeches during the Low Yat incident (which he kena arrested for), or the guy doing butt exercises in front of Ambiga’s house – lodged a police report because the picture would incite public outrage. 🙄
But at the end of the day, political activism using art is nothing new, and in some cases the artwork has survived long after the governments they’re opposing have crumbled. While our internet laws (which may be made even stricter) can be used to stop these pictures from reaching out to the masses, or even if Fahmi were to be put in jail; people will find a way to get their voices heard. You might remember the recent #RespectMyPM campaign which completely backfired, with no involvement from Fahmi.
We originally wanted to end with a quote from American philosopher Henry David Thoreau, but it seems much more fitting to use one from Fahmi instead.
“There comes a time when we are forced to rid ourselves of fear and rise up against oppression, as it can inspire courage in others, to likewise get up and fight.
If one penghasut falls, a hundred will rise.” – Fahmi Reza, as quoted by Malaysiakini.