"We Are Not Your Enemy" – Orang Asli Artist Depicts The Struggles Of His People In His Art

Shaq Koyok discusses racism, bullying, and the destruction of the land with SAYS.

Cover image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

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Shahar "Shaq" Koyok is a contemporary artist from the indigenous Temuan tribe

The 37-year-old's paintings, which exclusively feature Orang Asli, are part of his efforts to defend the rights of the indigenous people and shine a spotlight on the issues affecting the communities.

Sometimes, he takes his activism a step further by painting his pieces on a pandanous woven mat instead of a regular canvas, as a mark of individuality and a way to preserve the Orang Asli culture.

He also holds solo exhibitions to display his artwork and spread awareness to the public.

Here's a look at some of his stunning pieces:

Confession Of Palm Oil (2013)

Image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

Legacy (2020)

Image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

Strong (2017)

Image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

Shaq's desire to make a difference was sparked by personally witnessing the destruction of the land he grew up in

Living in Kampung Pulau Kempas, Banting, he grew up surrounded by nature and often did fun things like going fishing, collecting wild vegetables for his parents, and swimming with his friends.

Despite living in a rural area as far as 10km away from the town, he was happy.

"I am blessed to have grown up in that kind of environment. The lifestyle made me stronger," the artist told SAYS.

Wounded Memories

Image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

However, a particular incident from his childhood changed his life forever.

"I saw logging lorries [come] into my village when I was about five or six years old. It was very traumatising for me. Those forests [they destroyed] were actually my playground," he lamented, recalling how upsetting it was and how he was unable to do anything about it.

When he grew up, the feelings sparked by that incident led him to become an activist. He decided to use his passion for arts to make a change and raise awareness about the rights of indigenous people.

"I wanted to become an artist and at the same time help my community," he affirmed.

When discussing hopes for the Orang Asli community in Malaysia, Shaq told SAYS that he wishes for their lands to be recognised by the government, not just verbally but also on paper

According to him, many in the community have been living on the same land for generations, but they do not have the rights to those lands.

"Can you imagine going on Google Maps and seeing your home being marked as a reserved forest? It's as if you're a part of the flora and fauna (and not regular people)," he said in dismay.

He also noted how the demolition works impacted their villages — from destroyed roads to ruined vegetable crops, and even fatal accidents.

"It's not that the land belongs to us. It's we who belong to the land," he shared.

These are the issues Shaq addresses through his art.

Shaq also highlighted the importance of the Malaysian education system in preserving the Orang Asli community's identity

Redtape (2019)

Image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

According to Shaq, there is not much information about indigenous people in our education system. He mentioned how only having a few pictures of Orang Asli in textbooks is not really being inclusive, and suggested that school textbooks should include more information about the community.

In Shaq's opinion, this lack of awareness and understanding about the community is one of the factors that causes many Orang Asli kids to get bullied in school, which results in high drop-out rates.

 "(We often get called) slurs and names, and we even experienced physical bullying," said Shaq, sharing his personal experience from secondary school.

"(During my time), only two out of 20 students got to finish school. Some of them dropped out after six months because they couldn't stand the racism and bullying," he added.

"We are not trying to threaten you," said Shaq, sharing a powerful message to all Malaysians

"Orang Asli are cool as well. The more you get to know us, the more you will (see) how cool we are. We are not trying to threaten you. We just want to maintain our identity and culture.

"If you have the opportunity to meet Orang Asli, please make friends with them. Of course, some of us may look different. But we are the same as you. We are not your enemy," affirmed Shaq.

Malok Hak Kan Nik (Where Are Our Rights) (2019)

Image via Shaq Koyok (Provided to SAYS)

The artist aims to continue spreading awareness on important issues for the Orang Asli community through his activism and artwork.

To find out more about Shaq Koyok, follow him on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and subscribe to his YouTube channel.

All this month, SAYS will be featuring inspiring stories of extraordinary Malaysian changemakers in collaboration with Wiki Impact

Wiki Impact is an online platform dedicated to the impact industry. They share stories and data on issues that matter, highlighting impact-driven organisations and changemakers on the ground. Categories include poverty alleviation, social justice, gender equality, healthcare and education for all, environmental sustainability, animal welfare, impact influencers, and more!

Find out more here

Image via SAYS

Here are other ways Malaysians have been making an impact in their communities:

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