The excellent and courageous Malaysian cartoonist Zunar (Zulkiflee Ulhaque) recently gave a talk entitled ‘Laughter as a Political Tool’ at the Institute of Advanced Studies, University College London. There was also an accompanying exhibition of his campaigning cartoon work.
Zunar speaking at the event (pictures of him in handcuffs featured heavily as he’s frequently been arrested)
Back in his home country he has faced continued harassment and censorship for standing up against government corruption. His books have been banned and the printers harangued for publishing them. His Kuala Lumpur studio has been raided and thousands of his books confiscated. He’s been arrested on numerous occasions and some of his exhibitions have even been physically attacked. He was charged under the Sedition Act and faced the prospect of 43 years in prison. He was also banned from international travel up until last year.
The discussion was focused on how humour can be used to challenge existing political structures and was part of the IAS Laughter programme of events.
Cartoon by © Zunar
Zunar told the story of how the Head of Police ordered his arrest via Twitter – since then he has playfully tucked a drawing of the police chief using a mobile into many of his drawings (see above cartoon)
Zunar with CRNI’s Terrry Anderson (and a drawing I did of him during the talk)
He also spoke passionately about the need to stand up against political injustice and corruption. He said ‘How can I be neutral? Even my pen has a stand’.
Zunar was presented with the Cartoonists Rights Network International Courage Award in 2011.
Thankfully things have eased up for him since the regime he pilloried has been removed from office (although he joked that he will really miss drawing former Prime Minister Razak and his wife Rosmah who gave him so much material)
Zunar with The Guardian political cartoonist Martin Rowson at the exhibition after the talk. Martin described Zunar as one of the bravest people he’s ever met.
Cartoon by © Zunar
More can be read about Zunar’s long fight in this Guardian article.
He is planning a book about his experiences and will hopefully be visiting the UK again later in the year to talk about it.