Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia – In 1968, the Atelier Populaire’s striking posters captured the mood of French students agitating for change. Nearly 50 years later, the movement has inspired a whole new generation of activists, thousands of kilometres eastward in Malaysia.
Decades before, on the streets of Paris, the Atelier’s hand-drawn posters vividly conveyed the anger of people frustrated by increasing unemployment and the rising cost of living. In Malaysia, 38-year-old activist Fahmi Reza and the collective of artists who call themselves Grafik Rebel untuk Protes & Aktivisme (GRUPA), are motivated by outrage at a ballooning scandal over state investment firm, 1MDB, and hundreds of millions of dollars transferred into the private bank accounts of Prime Minister Najib Razak.
The allegations are still under investigation in the United States, Switzerland and Singapore, but Malaysia’s own top prosecutor decided in January not to press charges because he said the money was a “gift” from Saudi Arabia, and the prime minister has denied any wrongdoing.
‘Weapons in the service of the struggle’
Outraged by the decision, Reza was inspired to draw a caricature of the prime minister as a clown and shared it with his 7,500 followers on Twitter. The image, shared widely across social media, was accompanied by a caption that read: “In a country full of corruption, we are all seditious.”