By Annabelle Lee

A veteran Malaysian cartoonist believes Zunar should “spread out” his subject matter while an academic thinks the political cartoonist’s cartoons are more “provoking” than they are critical.

(To read this article in Malaysiakini click here.)

Zunar, whose real name is Zukiflee Anwar Ul-Haque, is a Malaysian political cartoonist known internationally for his cartoons critiquing allegedly corrupt figures and systems in Malaysia. Prime Minister Najib Abdul Razak and his wife Rosmah Mansor feature regularly in his work. Some of his books have been banned and he currently faces nine sedition charges as well as a travel ban.

“Zunar is a very good cartoonist, the only trouble is he should not only focus on certain characters, he should at least spread it out,” said Reggie Lee at a panel discussion with local and international cartoonists last night.

In the same panel, Universiti Teknologi Mara Cartoons and Comics professor Muliyadi Mahamood commended Zunar for bringing about a “renaissance of Malay political cartoons”.

“But there are artists who are responding to the (current) situation in different ways… there are cartoonists who resort to more symbolic ways to criticise. What Zunar is doing is not merely criticising but provoking,” he added.

The panel also discussed the censorship cartoonists face.

“What I do, (as) an unwritten rule, is I practice self-censorship. I do not want to give problems to the editors,” said Reggie.

Muliyadi acknowledged that media ownership, government policies and the Printing Presses and Publications Act 1984 have created a highly censored environment for Malaysian cartoonists.

French comics artist and writer Nicole Lambert and Belgian cartoonist Cost, the international panellists at the discussion, both said they were subject to little censorship and in fact had a “carte blanche” when it came to their work.

Carte blanche is when artists are given complete freedom to work.

The panel discussion was entitled ‘Press Cartoonists and Society’ and was organised by Alliance Française Kuala Lumpur in conjunction with French Language Day. Also held in the same venue was the ‘Drawing Freely’ exhibition that highlighted the issue of press freedom among cartoonists around the world.

When contacted, Zunar said he focuses on the two characters – Najib and Rosmah – because no other Malaysian cartoonist is doing so, despite the various corruption scandals.

He said cartoonists have a responsibility to use their talents to critique those in power, like cartoonists in the United States who have consistently lampooned US President Donald Trump.

“This is what cartoonists do, we expose corruption and injustice,” said Zunar.

He said he does not intend to cause trouble with his work but is simply performing his duty as a cartoonist.

“I will not change my style to accommodate them (his critics) and I do not bother about editors because my concern is the rakyat,” Zunar said on claims that he is too provocative.