Did you manage to see Fahmi Reza’s Caution: Jerebu Is Coming Back bright yellow mural on the side of the Wisma Megah building in Kuala Lumpur last year? Despite being one of the memorable haze-related public artworks, it was hastily painted over in just three days last September but you can still get a glimpse of it on social media.
That work was part of a larger movement led by Greenpeace Malaysia, together with Studio Birthplace and Splash And Burn, to sound the alarm on recurring haze pollution and to demand urgent action. The haze, a recurring problem in the region, has been the topic of discussion as temperatures soar and the skyline grows blurry.
Embracing "artivism", the organisation has commissioned creative interventions in the form of public murals and billboards in Kuala Lumpur and Penang in recent months.
Other murals that feature messages about the impending haze season and aim to raise awareness about the environmental crisis caused by open burning, include those by multi-disciplinary artist Ernest Zacharevic, street artist Cloakwork and Sabah-based artist collective Pangrok Sulap.
“We want to get people to engage with the conversation and explore positive creative solutions to the problems, and get inspired to do anything they can regardless of their background. Even a conversation with a friend or family member or a Facebook post is better than silence, there’s silence in between every haze season and we want to keep the conversations going so that people remember to look for solutions,” said Zacharevic, a Lithuanian who is based in George Town, Penang, who curates the artist-led initiative Splash And Burn.
The murals have sparked public conversation, reminding Malaysians about the importance of clean air as a basic human right.
Haze: Coming Soon, an activist art exhibition at REXKL in Kuala Lumpur opens tomorrow.
The new show, featuring works from artists such as Zacharevic, Cloakwork, Pangrok Sulap, Wong Kai Yi, Fahmi Reza, Trina Teoh and Bibichun, will run from May 5-14.
The (free entry) exhibition, bringing together artists, filmmakers and activists to create an educational and inspirational space for the public to engage with the issue of transboundary haze and understand its origins, will also feature the film premiere of Haze-zilla, a satirical short film which tackles the issue of corporate greed and environmental destruction. In this film, a literal corporate giant towers over skyscrapers and unleashes toxic smog on the city, while a group of activists bravely demand justice.
Haze-zilla sheds light on the alarming reality that Malaysian companies are responsible for the environmental crisis, and highlights the urgent need for action.
“We hope this film will serve as a catalyst for change, inspiring viewers to speak up and demand a more sustainable future,” says film director Abhilash Chandra.
In addition to the exhibition and film premiere, there will be a panel discussion on May 6 (3pm to 4.30pm) on the topic of haze pollution and creative activism. The panel will invite environmentalists and creatives to share their insights on the issue and discuss solutions. It will be moderated by environmentalist Melissa Tan.
“We need a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act so that it can provide legal grounds to institutionalise checks and balances to ensure that Malaysian companies are not contributing to haze locally and abroad,” says Greenpeace Malaysia’s lead campaigner Heng Kiah Chun.
In 2021, the United Nations declared that clean air is a basic human right. In December that same year, Greenpeace Malaysia and CERAH filed a landmark complaint with Malaysia’s Human Rights commission (Suhakam), demanding that the government establish legally-binding and enforceable outdoor air quality standards. The complaint called for the implementation of stronger policies and better enforcement of laws to safeguard our right to clean, haze-free air, and for the enactment of a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act or Clean Air Act.
Suhakam has convened a Roundtable Discussion of experts to address the matter, and is expected to release a report soon, which will present recommendations to the Malaysian government.
More info on the Haze: Coming Soon exhibition here.