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Walking against the ISA: two videos

Posted by on Friday, 14 August, 2009 at 5:40 PM. Filed under: Gallery


On Saturday, 1 Aug 2009, I joined 20,000 other Malaysians in a peaceful protest against the Internal Security Act. The ISA is a law that, at the discretion of the Home Minister, allows for detention without trial for indefinite periods of time. It was originally a feature of The Emergency Regulations Ordinance of 1948, which was enacted to combat the communist insurgency. To know more, there’s no better education (in my opinion) than Fahmi Redza’s excellent documentary 10 Tahun Sebelum Merdeka, which you can watch (for free) here.

That Saturday was a week after I returned from my residency in Sapporo. The tear gas and chemical-laced water cannon was certainly a warm welcome home, a loving embrace into the contradictions, flaws and spirit of this country. I set out on foot from Bangsar LRT with three comrades – Zedeck Siew, Fahmi Fadzil and Zan Yamashita, a Japanese  dancer-choreographer-artist on residency in KL.

Here are two videos documenting the day. Forgive the shaky camera work, it is painfully obvious I’m no videographer and also, there was alot of running.



From Masjid Negara to Jalan Kinabalu (where we were gassed and cannoned repeatedly) to an empty Jalan Raja Laut (where Fahmi performs a wiggle) and eventually Masjid India (where we bought superhero balloons and met with artist friends). Zan’s arm got hurt as he scrambled up a hill to get away from the gassing. Apparently a well-meaning Malaysian urged him on with ‘run for your life!’.



A group of intrepid artists’ awesome social sculpture/performance down Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman. It gathered a large and appreciative crowd, which was eventually scattered by FRU trucks gassing us like there was no tomorrow.

And then. We had dinner. Zan ate some durian. I danced in my living room. And we all lived happily ever after. 1Malaysia.


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  1. Hafiz Ismail says
    15/08/2009 2:57 AM

    i was there when you guys perform that social sculpture and i really admire the effort you guys put into creating the awareness.

    keep it up the good work guys.

  2. ah Fei says
    15/08/2009 12:38 PM

    terima kasih.

  3. spongebob says
    16/08/2009 4:33 AM

    Nice heroic story. I like the word peaceful protest. Malaysia is like a sponge. We are plagiarist. We like to copy something that we think is cool. Anything that against the government is cool. We are against ISA, but Guantanamo Bay is ok. Not our problem. The US of A is a democratic country. They’re against the communist. But we are ok with the communist because they’re against the government which is cool. And we all lived happily ever after…..Tool

  4. hotgeek says
    16/08/2009 7:54 AM

    Spongebob: Awwww. Kesian-nye. Not happy arh? **Hug you**

  5. Zah says
    16/08/2009 10:08 AM

    I was wondering why you guys were eating salt.. I’m watching the video muted cos I can’t find my earphones and am in the library. Such law-abiding citizens we Singaporeans are. How have you been Sharon? What’s next?

  6. con says
    16/08/2009 1:36 PM

    Woah, the draconian beast chasing after the innocent rakyat.


    It’s nice to see and the crowds love it but lets be careful and try not to dumb down a complex civil matter into a childish good versus evil binary structure.

    Hollywood, advertisements, video games, and primative mythology use such structures to bypass critical and rational thinking. Our more educated and globalized generation of creatives should focus on making the information on complex issues clearer to the public instead of dramatizing.

    As much as public protests were important and necessary part for advancing human rights, I’ve the perception that this demonstration was more of a exploitative political spectacle than a real manifestitaion of general society’s outrage towards an oppressive law/government.

    First and foremost, such a demonstration could have been done in a safer and larger way had it been held in an Opposition controlled state. Bringing the show down to the capital was an intentional provocation to test a newly appointed Prime Minister’s reaction to such situations.

    Granted that there has not been any recent abuse or mass arrest under ISA, it becomes a real puzzle why the Opposition would choose this issue as a platform for mass protest. Had the issue been about public transportation, migrants rights, minimum wage, environment, social housing and medicine, I would imagine more people would have answered the call to enter the street and demand improvements. I’m sure that the law is abused by politicians but were there mass protest when Muslim extremist groups were arrested under such laws.

    Pakatan should have picked an issue that affects the everyday life of millions and millions of Malaysians. Instead, they chose something tat is a favorite with the international press which spins it into an image that people here are totally without rights and freedoms. People, do you know that in China, the citizens have no access to Facebook, Twitter, or MySpace?

    I suspect that the demonstration was a way for Pakatan to unify and distract members from the stories of fracturing within the opposition alliance. Recently the east coast peninsula Malaysia has received a massive economical package and Najib is seen smiling with Tok Aziz at the signing ceremonies. As such, initial denials by PAS leader that a rapproachment with UMNO as impossible is becoming more probable.

    Having the controls it has since the elections, Pakatan should focus more on improving the small and daily aspects of the citizens in its state. Less spectacular but definately more meaningful. save the dramatics for the times which are really urgent, say election fraud as in Iran or, wrongful imprisonment of party leader such as Myanmar.

    Furthermore, I propose that creatives should do more to empower our identity as consumers. Think about it, you are a consumer everyday, a taxpayer (maybe) once a year, and a voter every 5. Remember that politicians are lobbied and supported by massive corporations who technically, should be serving us, the consumer-king.

    This is also gross simplification of course, but like the King of Rohan, the Horse Riders in Lord of the Rings, we are under a spell whihc makes us unaware of this awesome power. In the story, it was Sauron’s magical spell that beguilde the king.

    In reality, advertisors turn many people into insecure individuals obsessed with the material. It is this nebulous and complex force that creatives need to cast their eyes on and make aware to the consumerizens of this modern world.

  7. Sharon Chin says
    16/08/2009 4:26 PM


    When I turun padang that Saturday, I asssure you I did it not because I’m an Opposition crony, but because I oppose the ISA and all it stands for. This is not a Pakatan or party issue. Sure it is politicized and exploited on all fronts, but the truth of it is that there are people in Pusat Tahanan Kamunting who have not had the justice of being publicly charged with a crime and allowed to stand trial. Whether they are Muslim extremists or Hindraf leaders, it is the basic right of everyone to have their day in court. Innocence or guilt is irrelevant here.

    Why do you assume that the public is incapable of understanding a complex situation, just because they are appreciative of an art performance? You deliver your points eloquently, so substantiate this one, please. What do you, or any of us, know about ‘the rakyat’? I hardly think of myself as more educated or globalized, hardly in a position to lecture from, even if I was that way inclined. All I know is that I am one of the rakyat.

    I think David’s work was not really about creating awareness or ‘educating’ people. It was an expression of one point of view. That it found resonance in a crowd of hundreds, I think, is telling. Public performance has its own complexities and sophistication that are felt in the moment. I am NOT saying that the views of those who weren’t there are invalid (for all I know, you WERE present), however, as someone who has done street performance, I just want to point that out, to counter your simplistic suggestion that the work was dumbing down a difficult civil issue. On the street you are WITH complexity and reacting to it at every moment.

    Your point about consumerism is well taken. Agreed in principle, I suppose. We are all fighting the same battle. All efforts need to be taken into account – they shouldn’t be adulated blindly, but they must be given their proper due. And in your comment, I think you’ve been less than fair.

  8. con says
    16/08/2009 11:02 PM

    Hi Sharon,

    ‘I think David’s work was NOT really ABOUT creating AWARENESS or ‘educating’ people. It was an expression of one point of view.’ – You

    ‘i was there when you guys perform that social sculpture and i really admire the effort you guys put into creating the AWARENESS.’ – Hafiz Ismail

    I’m not saying that the mass is dumb.

    I’m saying that the mass is being manipulated by politicians and the artists need to be able to step out from the political games/spectacles.

    You can be totally brilliant and still be manipulated into certain actions by tapping into your emotions and instincts:

    ISA = Dark evil spider/dragon monster decapitates man and chases down a woman in distress who falls on floor and reveals her legs (audience is mostly men and a little bit of skin is enough for local standards)= entertaining cartoon sense of morality and world view

    If the artists are framing the ISA issue as a kind of evil monster to be feared, how likely is it going to be solved through peaceful negotiations?

    By placing a dragon/monster, you are teasing out the hunter instict / fight or flight reaction in people. The option is either to kill/slay it or run.

    Turning this personal perspective into a showy show is creating awareness. Spreading the video is about creating awareness.

    I wonder if this is the kind of awareness that is helpful in progressing the issue?

    For all the time that was put into making this dragon, why not create slogans, placards, brochures, leavelets, pictures, shirts, or performances that will :

    – humanize the prisoners at Kemunting
    – tell the history of the law
    – give actual data about its applications over 50 years
    – summarize the arguements for and against it,
    – summarize the petition that was being sent to the palace

    Looking at the first video, I dont see the crowd carrying much banners or placards about the issue they care so much about. The artists could have done something about this.

    What you got recently was

    ISA = Evil Monster
    Najib = Fake decapitation (fahmi’s VW work)

    and pretty grafitti outside a commercial gallery’s walls (VW too) to gain attention.

    If this trend continues, the political/street artists are going to be just as superficial as some of the gallery artists.

  9. con says
    16/08/2009 11:19 PM

    Ah also, doing a one-off show on the street is complicated but living and working in the street everyday is where the real complexity is.

    It’s the locals who are succesful in making a living in a difficult area who deserve the title of artist. People who pop in one day, do a show, and leave the next, are performers. Nothing bad in this, so long the performance is good.

  10. spongebob unhappy? says
    17/08/2009 1:18 AM

    Con is the Elaborator. Kids just wanna have fun with crafts.
    Hotgeek: **Hug you too** :)

  11. zoom says
    17/08/2009 9:39 AM


    LIFE magazine picture of excited children at a puppet show.

  12. 9.8seconds says
    18/08/2009 4:35 PM


    Example of consumers pushing corporations to push the media to push the politicians… in US lah

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