Lament for Anwar

Malaysia has recently been beset by an epidemic of betrayal and disloyalty in the political arena. There seems to be no penchant for integrity in the accelerating realignments of opportunity. In this never ending saga, this interminable tragedy, that is contemporary Malaysian politics, one figure stand out as a complex of qualities. A relentless fighter, a hopeless loser, beacon of hope, a focus of hatred and an object of ridicule, Anwar Ibrahim is all of these in one. He seems to be all things to all Malaysians, and while he is still the leader of the parliamentary opposition, his recent u-turn on around challenging the incumbent Bersatu-led government on the budget vote may signal an the end of his long and arduous quest to become Prime Minister.

Anwar purports to stand reform and unity over corruption and ethnocentric politics, but his past and his present actions indicate that this may just be the position he finds himself in. Anwar began as a firebrand Malay/ Islamic youth leader in the late 1960’s who was co-opted to the mainstream of Malaysian politics by Dr Mahathir Mohamed in 1982 and then dramatically ejected from his place of power in the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and imprisoned on the basis of a sodomy conviction, arguably under the auspices of by the very same Dr M in 1993. His recent return to a place of power has, once again, been on the coat-tails of Dr. M and, once again, he has been severely let down. This recent collaboration between these two bitter political political foes was arrived at on the basis of the utter repugnance and destructiveness of the present UMNO leadership. Now, in the increasingly fragmentary and multivalent political scenario, there is some well reasoned speculation that Anwar is contemplating alignment with these very folks. As the Financial Times puts it, some might say that his journey “has been Janus-faced and opportunistic.”

The Asia Times suggests that Anwar faces such a situation today, that he might prefer to “choose to withdraw PKR from the PH coalition to stand in the general election on its own, affording him more room to negotiate with UMNO or form a new coalition with whichever parties are expedient depending on the outcome of the polls.” Disappointing though this all is from the point of view of the mandate and manifesto, I suggest that, either by reason of true conviction or pure circumstance, Anwar Ibrahim remains the best hope for a progressive and inclusive Malaysia. I am not, however, optimistic that, if Anwar pursues such a hardcore realpolitik , it will play out for the good of all the rakyat.

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The above image from the from the Panji Pauh Ulong Series was shot in on the Lumut Waterfront, Perak in the course of the Dari Pusat Tasek performance presented by Percha Artspace on 25th Dec 2019. A 15 ft banner image of Anwar Ibrahim was raised on an 18ft flagstand in a performance that was loosely based on a Perak Malay cleansing ritual using cut limes. After 7 points of my body were rubbed with lime, I faced East and spat 7 times. I then threw the remains of the limes in the Westerly direction saying, “Pergi-lah semua sial jambalang daripada badan aku dan dari tubuh negara, pergilah ke Pusat Tasek Pauh Janggi (‘Misfortune and spirits of evil begone from my body and from the body of the nation, begone to the Navel of the Seas!). Water was then poured over me in order to complete the cleansing.

https://www.ft.com/content/8d5407c8-b262-11e2-8540-00144feabdc0

https://asiatimes.com/2020/12/first-notes-of-anwars-swan-song-in-malaysia/

1 Kibaran Bendera

1 Kibaran Bendera, Panji Pauh Ulung, Koboi Project (currently in progress)

Anwar Ibrahim will have his audience with the Yang di-Pertuan Agong on the 13 October 2020, and, if he proves that he has the numbers to usurp the incumbent, he will at long last fulfill what has been, for him, a life-long quest for power. While I would not presume to celebrate this outcome as being for the good of nation, given that it will, after all be another ‘back-door’ government fomented in a cauldron of leaping ‘frogs’, I would, however, like to confess, before the outcome of this highly unpredictable scenario is known, that my own sympathies are with Anwar Ibrahim. I wish him godspeed in what is, potentially, a closing play in what has been a long game.

As a practitioner of the visual arts, essentially the art of signs, I can not but discern an aptness of symbolism in that, given the spectre of sodomy (a crime which , rightly or wrongly, he has been charged, convicted and pardoned) that hangs over Anwar, this perpetual challenger for the Malaysian premiership might, finally, attain his heart’s desire through the so called ‘back door’!

At a previous moment in this struggle, I presented the Dari Pusat Tasek  installation and performance at Percha Artspace, Lumut Perak Malaysia, which ran from December 2019 -January 2020. The photographs of this event, constitute a work tentatively titled Panji Pauh Ulung which is the 13th series of the Koboi Project. My essay contextualizing this project, The Koboi Project: diasporic Artist… diasporic Art, is included in Interlaced Journey: Diaspora and the Contemporary in Southeast Asian Art edited by Patrick D. Flores & Loredana Pazzini-Paracciani.

http://pcan.org.ph/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Interlaced-Journey_E-BOOK.pdf

Dari Pusat Tasek 20

The Dari Pusat Tasek exhibition will run at Percha Artspace till 19 JAN 2020, ‘Dari Pusat Tasek” is the title of the 12th series in the Koboi Project, which includes a photograph titled  Naan Anaiyttal  taken in Kampung Indian Settlement, Batu Caves. It presents the Koboi standing before a 12 meter cutout of formerly jailed Deputy Prime Minister and Parti Keadilan leader Anwar Ibrahim. The Koboi stands gesturing forwards and upwards with a green skinned mango in his right hand. The cutout was initially erected around the 2008 election but taken down in the midst of a political/religious controversy about wastage/idolatry and fears that the structure would be a danger to the public in unfavourable weather conditions. It was put up again for the the 14th general election which took place in May 2018. 

The Koboi photograph was taken in 2018. Naan Anaiyttal is title of a song from M G Rmachandran’s hit film Enga Veettu Pillai (1965). MGR was of course to become the Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu and the song has populist and egalitarian theme. Anwar Ibrahim, in turn, is in line, however tenuously, to become the next Prime Minister of Malaysia next Prime Minister. Here are the lyrics of the song in Tamil, English, Malay and finally in Anwar Ibrahim’s own elegant translation –

Naan Anaiyttal
Athu Nadanthuvittal
Ingu Ezhaigal vedanai padamatta
Uyirullavari oru thunbamillai
Avar kanneer kadalile vizhamattar

If I were to rule
If that comes to pass
The poor will not suffer
As Long as they live they will feel no pain
They will not fall into the sea of tears

Kalau saya diperintah
Kalau ia menjadi kebenaran
Kaum miskin tidak akan menderita
Sepanjang hidupnya tanpa kecewa
dan tidak terjatuh ke lautan air mata

Kalau aku diberi kuasa
Tidak ada lagi yang derita
Tidak ada lagi yang miskin mengalir air mata

Naan Anaiyttal
Lyrics by Vaali