In this webinar, Zunar, one of Malaysia’s foremost cartoonists, shares his philosophy, craft, and technique of his art.
MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME WEBINAR
Thursday, 22 July 2021 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute hosted a webinar on “Sketch by Sketch with Zunar – A Visual Satire of Malaysian Administrations Over Time”, delivered by the guest speaker Mr Zulkiflee Anwar Ulhaque (better known as Zunar). Zunar is a multiple award-winning political cartoonist from Malaysia who comments on current social and political issues. With the slogan “How Can I be Neutral, Even My Pen Has a Stand”, Zunar has penned 19 books of cartoons, and has had exhibitions in Malaysia, Switzerland, United States, London, Spain, and the Netherlands. The cartoonist has received several awards including the prestigious “Cartooning for Peace Award (Geneva)” and “Courage in Editorial Cartooning Award (Washington)” as well as the International Press Freedom Award in 2015 (New York).
Zunar began his presentation by detailing his journey as a political cartoonist. He commented that he did not receive an Arts degree but was instead educated in the science stream as he aspired to be a scientist during his younger days. However, drawing cartoons had been his hobby since childhood and his cartoons were first published at the age of twelve. After a stint at a government hospital performing laboratory testing, he resigned to pursue his interest as a full-time cartoonist.
Zunar shared that he is influenced by his education and adopts a scientific approach in drawing cartoons, including the use of logos as punchlines in his cartoons. In addition, in his opinion cartoons must be based on factual truths – accurate and validated information – rather than rumours or hearsay. He added that cartoon drawing is a laborious and painstaking process, in contrast to the common perception of it as a spontaneous and low-intensity activity. Each cartoon drawing is created from multiple (and repeated) sketches based on his ideas which are free-flowing, with the initial sketches often being incomprehensible images. He draws his inspiration from actual political events within Malaysia, and occasionally gets his punchlines from readers’ comments on the online news portals.
As a political cartoonist, he perceives his role as a translator to simplify complex political issues into messages which are easily comprehensible for the Malaysian public. For instance, former Prime Minister Najib Razak is depicted in Zunar’s cartoon as “Man of Steal” and “Sapuman” with Malaysians instantly recognising the wordplay and references to the popular film and superhero character. Exaggeration, when used, should not detract the message from its original idea but instead complement it. Zunar perceives his role as a cartoonist to keep the incumbent government on their toes by criticising governmental policies which he disagrees with.
In the question-and-answer session, participants fielded queries relating to the Charlie Hebdo incident, the role of self-censorship for cartoonists, and his relationship with Malaysian political parties, among others. The webinar attracted a large turnout of 130 participants from Singapore, Malaysia and beyond.