Activists using art to express urgency to end haze pollution

Photo used for illustration purposes only.

KUALA LUMPUR – The large billboard partly resembling a Scrabble game board right in the middle of the exhibition space at REXKL here did not fail to catch the eye of visitors.

Displaying phrases like ‘Transboundary Haze’, ‘Hold Polluters Accountable’, ‘Peatland Burning’ and ‘School Closure’, this unique artwork was the centrepiece of the activist art exhibition dubbed ‘Haze: Coming Soon’ that was organised by Greenpeace Malaysia and ran from May 5 to 14.


It was created by Penang-based Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic, 37, who, incidentally, is behind the interesting street art that adorns public spaces in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Johor and Sarawak.

Among his most popular works are the ones that can be seen on Armenian Street, Penang, one of which features two children on a bicycle and another, a boy riding a motorcycle.

Zacharevic also painted a series of six murals reflecting the daily lives of Malaysians for the George Town Cultural Festival in 2012.

Creative intervention

Dressed in a simple green T-shirt and worn-out jeans, the talented activist artist told Bernama the billboard artwork was a collaborative effort, involving his Splash and Burn public artwork project, Greenpeace Malaysia and filmmaking outfit Studio Birthplace.

The artwork, he said, was the first in a series of creative interventions planned throughout 2022 to urge the authorities to hold polluters accountable for contaminating the environment.

“Clean air is a basic human right,” he said, adding that he and three other artists created the billboard mural on a metal perimeter hoarding in conjunction with last year’s World Environment Day which fell on June 1.

“It was displayed at a construction site between Agrobank and the National Textiles Museum along Lebuh Pasar Besar, near Dataran Merdeka here.

“I remember the four of us took about three days to complete the artwork, starting with the sketching work and later using acrylic and water-based paints to bring the mural to life… we worked under the hot sun and even in the rain which we thought was the biggest challenge we had ever faced,” he said, laughing.

Transboundary haze issue

Zacharevic said although street art, in general, may not last long, the messages they carry leave a profound impact on anyone who has seen or experienced it.

“For example, the transboundary haze. People know it comes and goes, but it is man-made. Hence, it can also be solved by humans themselves.

“Living in Malaysia, the transboundary haze has become a natural part of life. It is a regular occurrence and from what I can see, it seems like people are just seeing it as a norm rather than finding ways to prevent or solve it,” he said.

As an artist, he believes that art can help the general public to understand and relate to the issue on a more personal level.

“We hope it can start the conversation and encourage policymakers to address the issue meaningfully. We should not have to wait for another haze season to look for solutions,” he added.

Another highlight of the ‘Haze: Coming Soon’ exhibition is ‘Haze-Zilla’, a satirical short film produced by Studio Birthplace which tackles the issue of corporate greed and environmental destruction and also highlights the danger of breathing polluted air.

Studio Birthplace campaign producer Sean Lin said the film is designed as a movie trailer with the tagline ‘coming soon’ to emphasise the message that the haze will continue to recur if no firm action is taken to prevent it.

“We try to highlight the issue through humorous and creative videos The root of change is awareness. Awareness ignites engagement and builds momentum towards social change which makes policy change more likely,” he said.

‘Haze-Zilla’ can be viewed on Greenpeace Malaysia’s YouTube channel and since its release on May 6, it has already garnered over 180,000 views.

Meanwhile, during the 10-day ‘Haze: Coming Soon’ exhibition, over 2,000 visitors signed a petition by Greenpeace Malaysia to request the Malaysian government to enact a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act.

Greenpeace Southeast Asia regional campaign strategist Heng Kiah Chun said such an Act is needed to provide legal grounds to institutionalise checks and balances and ensure that Malaysian companies are not contributing to the haze locally and abroad.

He said those who were not able to attend the exhibition can sign the petition on Greenpeace Malaysia’s official website. – Bernama