AUG 30 — In the last few days there has been much speculation and anger over the showing of my work — “An Alphabet for the Middle Aged, Middle Classes”. The controversy has revolved around whether there are meanings and intentions within a particular fragment of the work aimed at disrespecting or denigrating any particular group, racial or religious.
Needless to say, as a Malaysian artist, curator and writer, like my fellow citizens, I have always been mindful the legitimate sensitivities and concerns that arise from the wonderful mix of peoples, cultures and value systems that have made Malaysia so very special to all of us.
As such, in the light of the controversy this particular work is currently embroiled in I feel compelled to explain the work.
I is for Idiot is one part of the 26 boxes that make up the work “Alphabet for the Middle Aged Middle Classes”. The work was made four years ago at the height of the conflict in Iraq while taking into account other world events. That is the only intention of the work as a whole.
With the particular box that has given offense, there are four elements to that work.
The word “Idiot” refers to the American President George W Bush, the leader of the free world who was famously silly and sometimes idiotic. He is depicted here in the famous ‘mission accomplished’ moment when he landed on the USS Abraham Lincoln in 2003.
The flag is the American flag with the skull and cross-bones as a symbol of a Bush foreign policy aimed at benefitting American national and corporate interests abroad at any cost.
The monkey in the fighter pilot’s helmet is a representation of American military might and its actions — particularly in the bombing of Baghdad and consequently other Iraqi cities during that Bush presidency.
Lastly — the use of the verse from the Quran — In the name of God, The Compassionate and Merciful. The verse is used with respect as a symbolic representation for the entire Iraqi nation, who in my mind, were the innocent victims of their own leaders as well as foreign powers and always, the oil lobby.
There has been much criticism for my having reversed the Arabic calligraphy. This was done, with the best of intentions, to depict that moment in world history when everything seemed upside down and inside out. That was the only reason this verse, a sacred cornerstone to the Muslim faith is reversed.
As such, in the case of this reversing of the verse, there is no malicious, evil or mischievous intent involved in anyway to insult or be-little the Faith. In fact the case is the opposite – it is my expression of solidarity with the suffering of the Iraqi person-on-the-street in the time of war and upheaval…. most of whom are Muslim.
Having said that, I realise now that there are great sensitivities involved in how the Word is depicted, and I apologise sincerely if this has caused offense to anyone. My intention — I stress again — was one of solidarity with the Iraqi people.
Malaysia is my Homeland and it has never been my intention to offend my fellow Malaysians and that is very deeply regretted. My art is simply a way for me to try and understand the world in which we live in and to do it with truth, sincerity, grace.
* This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of The Malay Mail Online.