Contemporary Art Issues: Malay's Identity in Lat's Cartoon

Definition of cartoon by David Low is: “A cartoon is a drawing, representational/symbolic, that makes a satirical, witty or humorous point,” (Muliyadi: 2008).

Lat has been known for his contribution to Malaysia’s art scene and social impact through his cartoons, autobiography comics like The Kampung Boy which are sold all over the world. In this forum, we will see the importance of Lat character and the Malay culture which he bring along in his cartoons. Presented by Dr. Muliyadi Mahamood, Lat’s Malay identity have been reveal and presented as one of the study which is important for Malaysia socio-culture and identity.

Lat born in 5th March 1951 in Kota Bharu, Perak and started contribute in Majallah Filem, April 1964 of his first comic Tiga Sekawan and it being publish until 1966. A huge fan of Raja Hamzah, he started to built an identification of character with Malay identity despite of so many local cartoons are very westernize style which is not suitable with Malaysia’s identity.

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After so many years, he still uplifts the idea of Malaysia culture and we always looking at Lat as our icon who always bring the Malaysian identity in his cartoons.

Issue Discussed

In this forum we discuss about the identity and cartoons; the definition and how this effect in our culture and sociology does. With Lat’s cartoons, he adapt the Malaysian identity in his drawings through the characters relationship, how is their life, activities, games and also including current issues of that time such as socio-culture and political event on that era which can be seen in Keluarga Si Mamat.

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Dr. Muliyadi also suggests the early Malay cartoons like Dol Keropok dan Wak Tempeh and Keluarga Mat Jambul by Raja Hamzah which is Lat’s favorite cartoonist. The scene of these comic strips is more about Malay culture in modernization era example Keluarga Mat Jambul is about young-new-wed-couple which live in urban city and women being a queen control whereas Mat Jambul would only nod to his wife. This show that socio-economics and culture has occur major transition, and Raja Hamzah capture the problem and translate it into cartoons strip. But the characters still very westernize and this situation gives Lat an idea to create an identity that suitable for Malaysian cartoons characters.

We will also discussing issues on multi-racial, ethnic and socio-culture that Lat put into his every day life comic strip which is very entertaining yet not racist. This is a major success of Lat by using his own interpretation of Malaysian life in his comics and cartoons makes him as a very well known and lovable comic artist in Malaysia.

Focus of Discussion

The focus is more towards Lat’s work which is The Kampung Boy, Keluarga Si Mamat and his Malaysian Scene which is produced in New Straits Time. Lat show the relationship of four characters in Keluarga Si Mamat which is including their life, activities play together. In The Kampung Boy, it’s about Lat’s childhood life in kampung/village and more towards of Malay culture. Example, superstitious, berkhatan, khatam Quran, weddings, learn to take wudhu’ and listen to old folks and respect their words. These are some of the Malay elements that shown clearly in his autobiography as a kampung boy.

The Malaysian Scene is more towards current issues, sometime political and most of it is daily routines which transfer to be a hilarious jokes. Lat never failed to make us laugh. Some of the issues that he brings up are about lack of service in some of government offices, corruption, and Mat Rempit. All of these serious issues become a joke from Lat’s view, his way of express his feeling towards this issue is unique and definitely reflects his idea of humor around everyday life.

Malaysian identity in Lat’s cartoon is about multi-racial, multi-ethnic, multi- cultural, customs, tradition and harmony. Lat always put kampung visual and style, which always make us remember the roots of Malay culture and value of esthetics. Never left out the moral value and family love and respect, Lat’s cartoon is always very humble, down to earth and always remembers that kampung is always the best place of in every people memory. Area of Interest

My area of interest is when comes to Lat style and characters. He keeps using very simple approaches to keep his drawing clean, very well structured and sometime it could be very detail. The detailing of his drawing shows in The Kampung Boy where he draws the view inside the house and outside of the house.

As we can see its very detailed yet well structured drawing has been produce by Lat. It show clearly the Malay culture such as usage of tempayan is located nearby the stairs so guest can wash their feet before enter the house. The Malay house he draw also stated that he stays in Perak, which is the style of house architecture can only be found in state of Perak.

The next figure shows usual Malay dinner in village. The strong Malay culture once again can be found which is cross legged way of sits, having dinner on the floor top of the tikar mengkuang and usage of gasoline lamp which is shown he live without electricity, a very common way of kampung life. We can see that petai or ulam is always on the side of everybody in the house and the dishes are very simple.

This detailed is successfully elaborate by using all the traditional Malay elements which is ulam, labu sayung usage as water container that is very common in Perak state, and village attire at home which is kain pelikat and kain batik which adult Malay use it as normal daily attire or basahan.

On the next figure, scene of little Lat being chased by his mother due to his stubbornness, and it was drawn beautifully and humorously chasing scene. The elder woman was pictured in the drawing fetching water from well is surprised when little Lat were running around her try to get escape from her mother. Once again we can identify traditional Malay village culture element which is water supply taken from well, chickens as source of poultry and eggs, open type of housing environment (without any fence), and high built houses off the ground in order to avoid floods.

Analysis of Artwork Lat artworks have been a very humorous in his owns style. No need to make stupid joke but he always look of our normal routine of life as his inspiration and idea to produce cartoons. Example; figure above is in Keluarga Si Mamat, which shown playing hides and seeks. A very simple subject matter but Lat sees it as a source of humor. The character, Epit, is always being used as the source of humor in this comic. The appearance of Epit itself already makes people laugh. Running naked around is something common for village boy on those days.

Other case is how he brings up his childhood memory. He does get through the hard time and always get scolded for his wrong doing. But it doesn’t matter, it’s not something to be ashamed of, but those things make him grow to be a better person. We also can see the image of Malay woman dress when at home which is berkemban or wearing only wrap batik cloth. Once again, Lat cartoon is the perfect tool to study the Malay culture in village as very detail attention he draw in this autobiography. Lat style is very Malay attempt, stylish and clean, arrangement and compositions very well structured, not crowded and still preserve Malay’s value of parenthood and culture.

Then Lat produce “Kampung Boy, Yesterday and Today” which is all about comparison of Malay traditional and modern game. Lat has brought up the memories of grown up towards when we are still young and enjoy time to the fullest.

Some of the culture events can be seen in this strips which is ice balls era which is very popular one time ago. This strips shows s very different experience that Lat shared with the new generation of Malay society which is now more modern and materialistic. He still educates the society even though it’s only a drawing.

As now we can see that Lat always stick to use local theme because for him it is easier to draw things that he knows. As Dr Muliyadi Mahamood (2008) cited that: “I drew the reban ayam, (chicken coop) I drew chicken, I drew my teacher, things that more within reach, things that I knew about,” (Lat 1994:17) it shown that Lat is a very straight forward kind of artist and love the conventional method which more comfortable for him. For him his childhood memory, his own experience in traditional Malay village culture is the best thing he ever had in life, and he is very delighted and looks forward about it, and shares his feeling and ideas with the world.

Furthermore, Malay culture has been centre of attraction in his drawing, and this culture that can be learns from most of his cartoons. As example below, Lat’s describes his childhood experience when they have to learn how to solat or pray with all the games equipment is hidden beneath their clothes and songkok. The cover blown up definitely, but its shows that no matter what they do, religion and knowledge are crucial, and it should be on the top of the list. Another thing we can examine is what is the game they always playing back in village, when all the hidden things was discovered. Lat’s drawing shows slingshots, gasing, batu seremban and marble are rolling out from their pockets. These are all popular games back in village in those days, in his childhood era. All these elements of traditional Malay culture is connected closely and very important that we can search just by looking at his drawing.

Conclusion Lat has played an important role in significant of Malaysian identity in his characteristic of cartoons. Not only he’s the pioneer of early cartoonist in Malaysia, but he also one of the most important person that comes with the idea that Malaysian cartoon needs to be in their own identity or style, kept the culture and preserve the local touch.

He also goes along with the social issues, and makes him as an icon and act as mirror of the society. It makes him as a very successful cartoonist in terms of socio-culture and multi-ethnic society. Lat also getting the time frame of events such as in 1970’s where the images of beauty is Malay women wearing kebaya, socio-economics for village folks and their daily routine, and many more. He is very detailed in his drawing and observation, which always includes all the details of traditional Malay culture in his drawings and cartoons, mostly on village area.

Lat has prove that being a cartoonist is not all about making jokes, but also to enhance and aware of our own culture, society and current issues at the same time maintain the ethnics harmony and produce artwork without offending other people which is different races and skins. All these elements are crucial in order to enhance the idea of being Malaysian, yet maintain the culture’s identity while preserve the elements of unity between many races.

Cite this page

Contemporary Art Issues: Malay's Identity in Lat's Cartoon. (2017, Feb 17). Retrieved from

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