In the wake of Malaysia Baru, many previously silenced voices and forms of expression, are now finally being given their time in the sun.
One example of this is Sabah Tanah Air-Ku, a ‘controversial’ artwork series by Sabah-based community art collective Pangrok Sulap.
These large works, measuring 2.5m x 3.5m, are finally available for public viewing at Pangrok Sulap’s inaugural exhibition Lopung Is Dead!, which opened on Oct 4, at the A+ Works Of Art gallery in KL.
Last February, Pangrok Sulap originally presented Sabah Tanah Air-Ku – featuring two interconnected woodcut works – at the Escape From The SEA exhibition in KL.
The group exhibition was organised by the Japan Foundation Kuala Lumpur (JFKL), in collaboration with the National Visual Arts Gallery (NVAG) and Art Printing Works Sdn Bhd (APW).
Escape From The SEA, which featured issues of identity, belonging, and history through the politics of borders in this region and beyond, was shown in two venues – APW Bangsar and NVAG.
Sabah Tanah Air-Ku (Version 2), which was showing at the APW venue, was taken down by the exhibition organisers on Feb 26 last year.
The artwork was removed from the international exhibition due to a public complaint, which alleged it was “too provocative” as stated by Pangrok Sulap member Jerome Manjat last year.
“The only explanation given was that the organisers had received complaints about it, and so it had to be taken down,” says Jerome.
A few weeks later, Pangrok Sulap – as a protest – removed its Sabah Tanah Air-Ku (Version 1) artwork from the Escape From The SEA exhibit at NVAG, citing that it would be meaningless to showcase just one work when Sabah Tanah Air-Ku was intended as a pairing, sharing common topical issues.
This incident stirred several heated debates about censorship and creative expression among the arts and culture community.
“There was a lot of discussion that took place after the work was taken down. But no one was thinking of putting it up again, which I felt was important,” says Joshua Lim, A+ Works of Art director.
“A+ Works of Art’s intent is to provide a platform for the work to be shown and be accessible to the public,” he adds.
The artwork is finally being displayed at the gallery in their intended diptych format.
Sabah Tanah Airku comprises twin woodcuts, and depicts issues relating to Sabah and Malaysia, including corruption, rural poverty, imbalanced development, land issues, illegal logging and stateless communities.
Rizo Leong, one of Pangrok Sulap’s founders, expressed happiness that the works could now be freely seen again.
“When they took it down, we were quite upset. But one (positive) side effect was that it made people pay attention to the piece, and now they finally have the chance to actually check it out,” says Leong.
The collective’s name speaks for itself: Pangrok means punk rock, while Sulap means a farmer’s resting place/hut.
It was formed in its hometown of Ranau in 2010, and it continues to engage community projects, interactive school-based workshops and group exhibitions – both home and abroad.
The Lopung Is Dead! exhibition features nine works from Pangrok Sulap.
Lopung Is Dead! is on at the A+ Works of Art gallery, d6-G-8, d6 Trade Centre, 801 Jalan Sentul in Kuala Lumpur till Oct 27. The gallery is open from Tuesdays to Saturdays from 12pm-7pm. FB: A+ Works Of Art.