Clearing the Air on Transboundary Haze with Art, Film and Activism

Clearing the Air on Transboundary Haze with Art, Film and Activism

Greenpeace Malaysia wraps up the timely ‘Haze: Coming Soon’ activist art exhibition, drawing over 6,000 visitors, including policy makers, as the ASEAN transboundary haze meeting approaches.  Visitors experience ‘artivism’ up-close and learn more about the critical issue of haze pollution – a topic often clouded in confusion

KUALA LUMPUR, 15 MAY 2021 – A truly unique multifaceted event took place at REXKL from May 5 to 14 through the joint efforts of Greenpeace Malaysia, Studio Birthplace and Splash & Burn. The exhibition combined art, film, and activism, immersing visitors in a visual feast with a vital message: it’s time Malaysians stand up for our right to clean Haze-free air. The exhibition also attracted the attendance of Seputeh MP Teresa Kok, Deputy Minister of Investment, Trade and Industry Liew Chin Tong, and political veteran Lim Kit Siang to join in the discussion.

Studio Birthplace, campaign producer, Sean Lin, explained, “The root of change is awareness. Awareness ignites engagement, and builds momentum towards social change which makes policy change more likely. This creative campaign aims to bring people together to talk about haze and to support Greenpeace’s campaign to protect the air we breathe for future generations.”

Visitors were welcomed with a screening room for the short film Haze-zilla, next to a large cityscape of cardboard buildings, repurposed from the film set. Visitors then walked through an immersive, misty “Haze Corridor”, displaying the severity and effects of haze from 1991 until 2019, a stark reminder of living through recurring haze episodes for over three decades. Multiple artworks – including large murals, striking posters, paintings and poetry – were displayed in the main exhibition space from artists such as Ernest Zacharevic, Cloakwork, Pangrok Sulap, Kai Yi Wong, Fahmi Reza, Bibichun, Trexus and Trina Teoh. Attendees could also interact with polls and browse informational displays explaining the story of haze and inviting them to take real action to join the movement.

The exhibition’s opening weekend featured a launch party and a contemporary dance performance by the Asia Ballet Theatre. Following this was a lively discussion from a multidisciplinary panel on the topics of haze pollution and creative activism. Participants included Dr. Helena Varkkey (Associate Professor of Environmental Politics), Kiu Jia Yaw (Sustainable Development Lawyer), Heng Kiah Chun (Campaigner, Greenpeace Malaysia), Ernest Zacharevic (Curator, Splash and Burn), Sean Lin (Producer, Studio Birthplace), and moderator Melissa Tan (Environmental Activist).

Panellists discussed the complex challenges of tackling the haze problem within their respective fields, highlighting the need for stronger domestic policies.

“It’s time for our government to enact a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act (THPA) to ensure Malaysian companies operating abroad are not contributing to forest and peat fires,” said Heng.

Lawyer Jia Yaw highlighted the challenges of connecting action and responsibility to liability, stating, “Haze is not one party fanning the flames, it’s a collective responsibility of all parties’ inaction towards these companies”.

The discussion also addressed  the importance of keeping conversations about air pollution alive throughout the year, even when skies overhead are clear. Artist Ernest Zacharevic raised the point on how quickly the topic of haze is dropped from the media agenda, adding, “There are more efforts by companies to stop the conversation surrounding haze, than them actually contributing to the fight for clean air.” Panellists also spoke on the incredible value of more creative mediums – such as art and film – to ignite meaningful conversations around environmental topics.

One such example is Haze-zilla, the satirical short film by Studio Birthplace that premiered at the exhibition. In the film, a greedy corporate giant unleashes haze all over Kuala Lumpur as a group of activists rise up in protest. The film’s director, Abhilash Chandra, explained, “As Malaysians, our voices are often drowned out by the rich and powerful. So, why not poke fun at them, while highlighting a very important message: that this environmental crisis will continue to recur if we do not take action now.” Haze-zilla can be found on Greenpeace Malaysia’s Youtube channel, which has already garnered over 180,000 views. Collectively the film reached over 400,000 eyeballs across platforms since its release on May 6th.

During the 10-day event, more than 2,000 visitors signed the petition demanding for a Transboundary Haze Pollution Act. Members of the public who were unable to attend the exhibition can still add their voice to the fight for clean air by signing the official Greenpeace petition here on the organisation’s website. This petition will be presented at the ASEAN transboundary haze meeting in Singapore next month.


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