Zukiflee Anwar Haque, better known as the cartoonist Zunar, is a busy man. In February, a mini exhibition of his work was up at the Foresea KL 2019 Democracy Festival. This month, the 56-year-old launched the Art Of Freedom By Zunar at the Penang State Art Gallery.
The new exhibition, which ends May 28, is one of his biggest show to date. It is curated by Penang State Museum director Haryany Mohamad, and features 202 of Zunar’s cartoons, a visual documentation of his artistic career and sociopolitical beliefs over the last 19 years.
And while fans and foes alike have all seen Zunar’s worldview through his drawings, shaped by Malaysian politics and beyond, now for the first time we will get to read his words too.
Zunar’s has written his first feature book, Fight Through Cartoons, chronicling his journey as a sociopolitical cartoonist from 2009 – when he was first arrested – to the historic Malaysia General Election 14 on May 9, 2018. In the book, Zunar is assisted by cartoonist/photographer Sukhbir Cheema.
He’s scheduled to launch Fight Through Cartoons, published by Singapore-based imprint Marshall Cavendish, at Borders in The Curve (Mutiara Damansara, Petaling Jaya, Selangor) on May 11 at 2pm.
“I wanted to do this for documentation. I wanted to remember what happened to me, especially from 10 years ago. It is not a biography, not a history. It’s more my story about using cartoons to go against a regime,” says Zunar in an interview at his office in Kuala Lumpur.
“Humour and cartoons are very powerful … because people like to laugh. In the book, one of my philosophies is, ‘If you can’t beat them, laugh at them’.”
He chose a book instead of a graphic novel to tell his story because he wanted to record the difficult experiences he had over the years with government authorities. In fact, he practically rolls out a laundry list of arrests, court charges, book banning and travel prohibition.
“This book has to be accurate, with facts and dates all correct. I could have done the story visually with cartoons, but the thing with cartoons is it depends a lot on how people interpret them. I didn’t want there to be this question of interpreting my visuals, I wanted to get the facts out as clearly as possible,” he says.
Zunar also sheds light on the methodological approach he uses for his cartoons to effectively deliver his messages. From the conception of the panels right down to the inking, Zunar bares what goes on in his head when he starts to draw.
Told in his usual breezy and informal way, the book collects various photographs and news reports (of Zunar’s relationship with the law), as well as a sampling of his most iconic cartoons.
Also included are accounts of some of the darker moments in his life, including his arrest for making social media comments against the judiciary over (Port Dickson MP Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim’s conviction (Sodomy 2 case) in 2015, and the time his exhibition in Komtar, Penang, was attacked by thugs in 2016.
The process of writing the book made Zunar think deeply about everything he had been through. “It was hard when I had to face so much pressure (from the authorities). But I’m glad I carried on with my cartoons. Looking back, I ask myself, what made me want to continue?
“In retrospect, I don’t know where I found the strength to keep fighting. But I got a lot of support from the people, and that touched my heart. If I didn’t have support from them, I would have quit long ago,” says Zunar.