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Greenpeace and Artists Unite to Demand Action on Transboundary Haze Pollution through Activist Art Exhibition

 As the scorching weather intensifies and Kuala Lumpur’s skyline grows blurry, ‘haze’ has become a trending topic both online and offline. Headlines have recently reported that Malaysia may be one of several ASEAN countries destined for another haze season. This year, local groups intensified efforts to combat haze caused by Malaysian-owned companies involved in open burning using unconventional mediums.

Mysterious public murals have been appearing around KL and Penang over the past few months, alerting Malaysians about the imminent haze. These murals are part of a larger movement led by Greenpeace Malaysia to sound the alarm on recurring haze pollution and to demand urgent action. Turning to ’artivism’, the organisation commissioned public murals, billboards, a short satirical film, and an activist art exhibition that will open to the public in May 2023. The message is loud and clear: clean air is a basic human right, and that right is being violated.


These creative interventions started last year in a series of public murals by prominent artists. Just last week, an image of a mural by Fahmi Reza resurfaced on Twitter, with his warning, “Caution! Jerebu (Haze) is coming back,” blazing in bright yellow on the side of the Wisma Megah building. Originally created in September 2022, the mural itself was hastily painted over in just three days, but has continued to spark public conversation online.


Penang-based artist Ernest Zacharevic unveiled a thought-provoking mural last June that spelled out the words “Transboundary Haze”. Last week, Zacharevic revealed another one in the heart of Georgetown Penang, signalling the arrival of yet another season of haze.


Other involved artists include local artist Cloakwork, and artist collective Pangrok Sulap who recently revealed their interventions in Petaling Street and Jalan Tun Perak in KL respectively.

“We want to get people to engage with the conversation and explore positive creative solutions to the problems, and get inspired to do anything they can regardless of their background. Even a conversation with a friend or family member or a Facebook post is better than silence, there’s silence in between every haze season and we want to keep the conversations going so that people remember to look for solutions.” said Ernest Zacharevic, artist and curator of Haze: Coming Soon.

This series of creative interventions will culminate in an art exhibition entitled “Haze: Coming Soon”, which will run from May 5th to 14th at REXKL. It brings together artists, filmmakers, and activists. The event will feature artwork from prominent artists such as Ernest Zacharevic, Cloakwork, Pangrok Sulap, Wong Kai Yi, Fahmi Reza, Trina Teoh and Bibichun; offering an educational and inspirational space for the public to engage with the issue of transboundary haze and understand its origins.  


The exhibition will also feature the film premiere of “Haze-zilla”, a satirical short film which boldly tackles the issue of corporate greed and environmental destruction. Set in Kuala Lumpur, the film depicts a literal corporate giant unleashing toxic smog on the city, while a group of activists bravely demand justice. Through its powerful imagery and thought-provoking storytelling, “Haze-zilla” sheds light on the alarming reality that Malaysian companies are responsible for the environmental crisis, and highlights the urgent need for action. 

“We hope this film will serve as a catalyst for change, inspiring viewers to speak up and demand a more sustainable future.” said Abhilash Chandra, film director.

The teaser for “Haze-zilla” can be found on Greenpeace Malaysia’s Instagram Profile here

In addition, there will be a panel discussion on the topic of haze pollution and creative activism. Moderated by environmental activist Melissa Tan, the panel will invite environmentalists and creatives to share their insights. 

“Instead of blaming our neighbours, let’s focus on what we can do on our own turf here in Malaysia.” said Heng Kiah Chun, Greenpeace Malaysia’s lead campaigner. “We need a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act so that it can provide legal grounds to institutionalise checks and balances to ensure that Malaysian companies are not contributing to haze locally and abroad”.

The "Haze: Coming Soon" event will be a call to action for Malaysians to take responsibility and demand meaningful action from policymakers. The exhibition is free and open to the public from May 5th to 14th. To be part of the movement, register for the free exhibition on Eventbrite here. 

These creative interventions make up the creative counterpart to build momentum and gain public support for a larger ongoing campaign to lobby lawmakers. In December 2021, Greenpeace Malaysia, together with CERAH, filed a landmark complaint with Malaysia’s Human Rights commission (SUHAKAM) to demand that the government make outdoor air quality standards legally binding and enforceable. The complaint called for the implementation of stronger policies and better enforcement of laws to protect our right to clean, haze free air, and for the enactment of a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act or Clean Air Act. Since then, SUHAKAM has taken on the issue with a Roundtable Discussion of experts and is set to soon release a report that presents recommendations to the Malaysian government.

Even though the United Nations officially declared that clean air is a basic human right in 2021, Malaysians have endured seasonal air pollution on an almost annual basis, no thanks to the lack of solutions or legal pathways available to hold polluters accountable.

The bottom line is that air pollution and transboundary haze affects all of us. We have a right to live without fear of the air we breathe. It’s time to fight for a future with clean air - starting here and now.