Shieko Reto: Candid Cartoons

Images Shieko Reto

Discrimination comes in many forms, as JUICE finds out from Shieko Reto, a visual artist and advocate of sexuality rights. Daily struggles intertwined with the state of affairs, personal or otherwise are in the form of her drawings, a distinctive example to express individuality in our ‘muhibbah’ society…

For the benefit of half-baked cookies amongst us, can you share with us what is it that you do?
Hi, my name is Shieko, I am a freelance illustrator, cartoonist, painter and a graphic designer. I translate my visual thoughts into physical form on papers, solid objects and walls.

Tell us how your doodling inspirations come about.
They come from people, music, art, nature, stories, human rights & environmental issues. Some times from things that I go through in my daily life. I also draw inspiration from the food that I eat and my current music playlist.

As an (in)activtist, what are the causes that you champion?
First of all, as I am a transgender myself, I strongly support the perspective of human rights for transgenders. Next, human rights in general and environmental causes. I also support the cause to love and quite simply, the right to live.

What gives behind the foxy lady? Are your characters based on your friends/family?
Foxy lady? Oh the one in my blog? It’s meant to be me, because I used to refer myself as a cat person and I have now evolved into a fox (laughs). Recently, I enjoy drawing anthropomorphic characters.

Do you project your identity as a transgendered person in your works?
Yes I do. Julya, a writer friend of mine, who is a transgender woman herself and I work together on a series of magazines titled OneBigLongkang. We have just released the fourth issue. Currently she is working on the fifth edition and I am actually behind schedule! (laughs). OneBigLongkang is basically about our experiences living in this country as transgender women. We speak individually and together as a community

Do you highlight the struggle of being the third sex in Malaysia in your art? How?
That’s what ‘OneBigLongkang’ is all about, to draw attention to our daily efforts for some semblance of normalcy in our lives. Also, we have ‘Justice for Sisters’ which is a grassroots campaign organised by concerned members of the public to raise public awareness regarding violence, persecution and discrimination against the Mak Nyah (male-to-female transsexual) community in Malaysia. We therefore champion for equal opportunities, rights and access to justice for our sisters. We organise fundraising campaigns to help other transgender women in paying their Syariah lawyer fees in Syariah court when they get caught by the “religious” officers.

What does it mean to be identified as a transgender artist?
Lonely, I don’t know of any others like me. I feel like a lot of artists I’ve met so far are mostly all guys and a few women.

What are the art movements available for the transgender community in Malaysia?
I am not sure there is an art movement for the transgender community in Malaysia. The government themselves have failed in promoting art as something crucial in this country. If there are any movements, I am sure they are working really slowly.

What do you think of people hoarding your work?
If you mean there are collectors of my work, I don’t have any. I have a couple who buy my paintings once in a while but not anymore. Thus I have to do a lot other things to support myself other than the physical art that I produce.

Give us your two cents on the political situation in our wonderful country.
F***ed UP, we have a very stupid system since the beginning & changes come at an excruciating snail’s pace. Religion gets politicized and Arabisation exists within our community. The LGBTIQ community gets persecution from the media every day. The media also gets to brainwash the ‘rakyat’ nationwide via the various channels. Bribery is also being exercised every day from top to bottom. Politicians get away with robbing money that belongs to the public. They also allow the destruction of our environment. There are more stupid laws that I can go on about. It’s time for the dinosaurs to go and make place for the new. However I guess this is what fuels us as artists. We have good materials to work on because of all these issues.

Apparently 2012 will be the end of the world as we know it. Give us your predictions for the good, bad and ugly for in the art scene.
The latest news says, the Mayans didn’t predict the world would end on 2012, it’s not a prediction, it’s just 1 calendar and the rest is missing somewhere in the jungle and Earth would continue to spin on its axis. However some say that it’s the end of the new world and the birth of a new one. To be honest, I prefer the idea of the latter.

I am not fully involved in the art scene actually. To be honest, I don’t even know there are scenes in our circle. That’s what the system in this country has done to us. They fragmented us into smaller pieces, like broken glasses. There are many groups of artists that could be divided from classes to race, then there’s economics; high-earning, mid-level and poor artists. And also maybe the women and men’s groups, perhaps a LGBTIQXYZ transgender group which I haven’t heard of yet. I just hope for the best for the rest of us.

Personally, it would be good if I could foresee my friends surviving solely on art. The bad would be that young aspiring artists actually have nowhere to go. They seem to be floating everywhere and the government doesn’t care. My ugliest thought for next year is that nothing really exciting happens in the art scene. Just deader than the dead would be.

We whole-heartedly agree, Shieko.

Check out Shieko’s blog for art work that speaks volumes here.