Female cartoonists dare to offer broader perspectives

Seventeen-year-old Ain Husniza joins senior cartoonists in an online forum on women illustrating against hypocrisy and prejudices

THE second forum materialising from the ongoing Asean Human Rights Cartoon Exhibition entitled ‘Female Cartoonists: Dare to Punch’, highlighting the artistry behind views seen and voiced by women, took place earlier today via Facebook LIVE with a surprise attendance by 17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam.

Ain, who made public her teacher’s alleged trivialisation of rape, was introduced during the second half of the event joining speakers Shazeera, Sarah Joan, Faizati, Sarah Amalina Wahid, and Grace Tjondronimpuno (Indonesia). 

Cartoonist Erdy (Thailand) was not seen present in the line-up.

Much like her seniors, Ain too has a penchant for drawing cartoons where she revealed her own artwork to the audience during the online event.

Cartoons that express

“I have been drawing for a long time, ever since I started watching anime. The interest has stuck to me until today,” she said.

“Recently, I do not only draw people, but more to express my emotions, ideas and my thoughts because it is one of the best ways to convey – through illustrations where people can see.

Female cartoonists dare to offer broader perspectives
Women cartoonists in Malaysia and Indonesia joined the second edition of the online web event called ‘Female Cartoonists: Dare to Punch!’ done in support of the Asean Human Rights Cartoon Exhibition. — Facebook/Craftora pic

“The drawing that I share here reflects how everybody is trying to go against us (students),” she added.

Sharing when the issue she highlighted first went viral, “I thought it was an isolated case and it was not known to me that what I experienced is so common in school settings.

“I receive a lot of comments from students who share similar experiences, and it just shows how society has always tried hard to silence us.

“It is really frustrating because making school a safer environment should not be debated about,” said Ain.

On the prospects of having a career as a cartoonist: “My parents have always been supportive of how I love art, and it has always been very free for me to choose what I want to do.

“Unfortunately, there is also this thinking that if you take science studies in school then you are classified as smart, while taking art would classify you as stupid or it being a ‘second option’.

“People (adults) have told me this and it proves that students are not able to make their own choices,” she added, noting the stereotype of a starving artist also does not help and only feeds the belief.

17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam joined in as a surprise guest, sharing her artwork during the forum. — Facebook/Craftora pic
17-year-old Ain Husniza Saiful Nizam joined in as a surprise guest, sharing her artwork during the forum. — Facebook/Craftora pic

Replying to how she deals with attacks from netizens, “I guess it is about knowing your priorities and goals. The backlash is part of the hurdles I need to go through to push forward the movement of making schools a safer place.

“I don’t deny that I cry every single day once, but it just shows what I have gone through is similar to what other students would have gone through,” added Ain.

“The hate comments I received just proves that these things need to stop, and that there is a need for change.”

Voicing against the pretence of attitudes

The two-hour long event also saw the participating female cartoonists detailing the reasoning behind the illustrations they have put out and the public scrutiny they had to face.

“When I first started my social media pages, my main content was mostly about religion – specifically on how it is used in the discrimination of women,” said Faizati.

“The topics touch on ‘polygamy’ and ‘aurat’, to name a few, which apparently attracts a lot of hate comments where my inbox was flooded with.

“One case example is for a drawing I did that touched on ‘lust’. It is of a typical Malay-Muslim man that is condemning homosexuality but at the same time you can also see that the man has four wives.

“In that drawing, the wives look sad because that is how I see ‘polygamy’ marriages as, or at least what is portrayed based on my own observations.

“In addition, if you are familiar with the drawing, you can also see that wife number four (smaller in stature) is portrayed as though the man (husband) condones to child marriage. In a simple way, I was trying to highlight the hypocrisy of the situation,” she shared. 

Cartoonist Faizati shows the audience one of the cartoons that gained public scrutiny as she shared her experience. — Facebook/Craftora pic
Cartoonist Faizati shows the audience one of the cartoons that gained public scrutiny as she shared her experience. — Facebook/Craftora pic

“Of course, those that do not agree would argue simplistically that it is permissible within Islam, but what I would counter back is putting more thought on the consequences. The criticism here is that the result of your action in the two situation, which one is worse?

“What I would like for people to do when they see my cartoon is that for them to think for themselves,” added Faizati, highlighting further on the backlash she receives, “In Malaysia whenever you touch about Islam, the society tends to check immediately if you are a woman or not. 

“If you are not wearing tudung, straight away you have no authority to talk about the religion even though you are not in a position of advocating anything.

“It is just one of the many instances I would experience for putting out thought-provoking cartoons,” said the cartoonist.

The discussion of the forum also poses the question – if the drawing a cartoonist produced touches a nerve, would the threat be more or less the same regardless of your gender?

Sarah Joan notes, “It is far more likely for a woman to walk down an alleyway and be fearful of the men around her than the other way around.

“I think that we are culturally raised to be fearful to stand out as a woman in case you attract the wrong kind of attention. 

“It is sad that girls are always warned to not wear or say the wrong things – even be at the wrong place at the wrong time,” she said.

“Men are certainly getting more educated today, but women do take a bigger risk when we speak out and stand up for ourselves because it is historically and statistically proven that we get ‘punished’ for it. Especially in an Asian society where said woman is speaking up against patriarchy,” she added.

Women know how to throw punches too

Replying to the notion that the political cartoon sphere is male dominated, which entails women to have less flair when it comes to advocating on human rights, Shazeera says, “I think we have a lot of punch to offer to be honest. In this call itself, the five of us are talking about different issues – religion, discrimination, impunity, and racism.

“We need more space and visibility for women to frontline this universe of cartooning and illustration, which means more efforts to mobilise women participation so that they can see this as an open space.”

While she agrees that there are higher risks and challenges for women cartoonists to stand out, the drive should not be any different from how women leaders globally are fighting for change and equality.

“Women cartoonists have a unique framework of interpreting issues visually. But these expectations are still dominated by how men are doing it. So, I think it is time to take into consideration the fairer perspective in illustrating issues.

“I am very much with Shazeera in highlighting that it is not that we are lacking the punch. To a certain extent, at least the women in my environment – we have a mathematical or procedural way of thinking. In that sense, it makes us mentally ready,” added Sarah Amalina.

“Also, your artwork and who you are is a package, and not separated by definition of being a woman. Therefore, it is very unfortunate that people still explicitly mention that the artist does not physically match the expectations of the artwork produced,” she noted.

By : Amalina Kamal – THE VIBES

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