Yesterday I put out a blog sharing the beautiful public art of Penang, one of the attractions that has made the city famous.
Paramount in publicity and fame among these public pieces is the installation “Little Children on a Bicycle,” which I had photographed just three days ago.
I was walking to a coffee shop this morning to do some work and passed by the mural as I sometimes do. There was a larger crowd than usual- most days there being only a few people at any given moment by it.
Unfortunately, as is sometimes the case with public, unprotected artwork, ‘Little Children’ was drawing a large crowd because it had been vandalized. I snapped a few shots, and when I got to the cafe did a little research to see if there were any articles about it, or any significance to the vandalism; “#4.0” had been spray painted on the painting.
As it had just happened it’s been hard to find news, but apparently CCTV caught a man around 3:15am spray painting over artwork and on people’s cars on Lebuh Armenia, one of the most popular streets of Penang featuring several pieces of public art, including “Little Children on a Bicycle”.
After a little sleuthing, I found out that the “#4.0” tagging had to do with a public rally, known as “Bersih 4.0” that is to be held simultaneously through major cities of Malaysia over the weekend of August 28-30 to protest the government and current domestic economic issues such as the unstable value of the Ringgit, the national currency.
It’s a shame that this is how people feel the need to gain attention for their cause.
To me, it seemed like yet another trapping of a false dichotomy; our lives, though often full of opposing forces, occur in such reality far less than we think. The human condition is way too obsessed with creating black-and-white terms in a life that is more often grey, or even win-win. Art does not cancel politics, and often enough the two feed strongly off of each other, pushing for change and growth. Why wouldn’t you use the relatability and appeal of art to further your view? To express your suppression?
Vandalizing world famous art does bring attention to your cause, but likely negative attention that will lead some to dismiss the merits of its cause. And that is a shame, as politics in Malaysia, like so many other Southeast Asian nations, is smoldering with long burning issues that have yet to be addressed, decades of single-party rule creating a system of entitlement, subjugation, duplicity, and total contempt among the populace.
So, vandalism sucks. False dichotomies are bad. But, the vandal did provoke me into searching and learning more about the reasons behind it, which, as bad as vandalism is, provokes a conversation of a greater problem: the injustices prevailing in Malaysian politics and the need for electoral reform to change the dominance of the current president Najib and his UMNO party, which have made moves to despotically consolidate power through the imprisonment of opposition leaders and critics. So I guess the vandal succeeded in his intent.
. . . . . . . . . .
To say it was disappointing to see the vandalism would be a gross understatement, but at the same time I felt a little selfish relief.
I knew I’d be passing by “Little Children on an Bicycle” a lot, so I could have just as easily justified waiting to take the photo. I’m so glad I didn’t. At least I can share it properly, something I wouldn’t have been able to do had I waited just a day or two.
I’d learned in Sierra Leone that if you want a photo, you have to snap the shot at the very first moment you get an opportunity. The first moment you get an opportunity might also be your last, as is the case with so many photos I have from Rotifunk (granted I will be going back, but it would have been nearly impossible to undertake the project for Bumpeh Academy if I didn’t have the photos that I did take). Photos are instantaneous. They are the capturing of a moment, and moments are fleeting, unique, and never reproduced.
Those attributes can all be, sometimes unfortunately, used to describe art as well. So if you like it, take the shot.