Radical art form blazing a trail for environment, indigenous rights

May 9, 2016
FMT News

PETALING JAYA: An alternative art group born through a love of punk rock has gained popularity across Malaysia in just a matter of six years, from its humble beginnings in Ranau, Sabah, according to a report by the South China Morning Post.

Pangrok Sulap uses woodcut printing for some controversial and confrontational art pieces that aims to address issues affecting locals and the environment, including depleted forests, animals and the indigenous population.

Woodcut printing is used by several radical groups in Southeast Asia. It was a technique that took off after a Yogyakarta-based Indonesia art group Taring Padi produced controversial political designs following the end of former president Suharto’s reign in 1998.

“I was amazed by the beautiful designs,” said Rizo Leong, one of the founding members of Pangrok Sulap. “We kept experimenting and began to develop our own style.”

Leong lives with his wife at Pangrok Sulap’s art studio which was formerly a primary school on the outskirts of Ranau town.

Pangrok Sulap was started by Leong, Jerome Manjat and four other original members in 2010, and has since grown with more talents to incorporate a range of artistic skills, the Hong Kong daily writes.

What they all had in common was a love for punk rock, hence the local pronunciation “pangrok” became the first part of the name for their new venture. “Sulap” is a Kadazan-Dusun word for a type of hut.

The group’s efforts in the front line of the fight to protect the environment and the rights of the indigenous population in Sabah was well received and their art soon spread across the state and subsequently to the peninsula, and even Japan, where a third exhibition is to take place.

“I don’t know how we got famous,” Manjat said, adding that it just seemed to have happened spontaneously.

Manjat said that the woodcut prints are displayed in public places, mostly without permission from the relevant authorities.

“But the authorities see these pieces, yet they don’t come and catch us. I think they know what we’re saying is true and they agree with our message,” he said.

According to SCMP, Pangrok has diversified, now creating art works from beads (similar to the traditional Dusun art form used on ceremonial costumes) and silkscreen prints, besides having a carpenter on hand.

The woodcut prints and other art works from Pangrok Sulap have been on display in major galleries all over Malaysia. Such popularity started to attract attention from major corporations too, one of whom was Petronas.

The group was asked by the national oil & gas firm to paint a mural in Kota Kinabalu, as part of the firm’s sponsorship of Malaysia Day celebrations on September 16, last year.

“They wanted us because we have a name and people know who we are.

“But we declined to work for Petronas after they came with the condition that it should not be political,” Manjat said, adding that the company even asked Pangrok to name its price to create the mural.

“That is the whole reason we do the art. From the beginning, we were all about spreading the message. We needed to because we don’t have media for local people here,” he added.

“We are interested in showing the real situation in Borneo, like the people losing land to the Kaiduan Dam.”

Manjat was referring to a project that the state government says is needed to secure water supply until the year 2030. Several Dusun villages will be destroyed with more than 2,000 people displaced.

“I don’t think the government cares about the people,” Leong tells the SCMP, adding “but the art makes them listen.”