Balai Seni must stop censorship, reinstate artworks

18 February 2014


The report by The Malaysian Insider quoting The National Visual Arts Gallery (Balai Seni) as saying that two works of Young Contemporaries finalists were removed because they caused ‘distress’ among some visitors is extremely unfortunate yet unsurprising for this increasingly conservative national arts institution.

The removal of artworks by Cheng Yen Pheng, “alksnaabknuaunmo”, and Izat Arif, “Insert#” last 12th February is extremely regretful and is reminiscent of the removal of artworks by J Anurendra from an exhibition in Publika organized by Balai Seni in August 2013. As usual, the bureaucratic excuse of “the work caused distress among some visitors” is lazy, far from adequate, and is merely used to mask the political pressure applied directly and indirectly by Putrajaya on freedom of expression in Malaysia.

Censorship of ideas expressed through the arts, particularly when the artistic commentary is critical of the ruling regime, is absolutely typical of the political paranoia that pervades Balai Seni and other institutions that “police” artistic work.

Putrajaya and the Minister of Tourism and Culture specifically must understand that artists are public intellectuals and thus must be accorded the freedom and space to articulate their observations and critiques of society. These works should be engaged with and not censored.

It is not censorship, but public discourse that will enliven and enrich democracies, something which Prime Minister Najib Razak should do well to heed.

I call upon Balai Seni and the curator of the show to not succumb to political pressures and immediately reinstate the works of the two artists, for the sake of the development of the arts in Malaysia.

Fahmi Fadzil
Communications Director of KEADILAN


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