Leong first encountered punk rock thanks to friends from nearby Kota Kinabalu, Sabah’s major city center. “We used to play in bands and organize shows here in Ranau and nearby Kundasang,” he explains, peeling layers of newspaper from the back of a newly made matrix. “When Jakarta’s band and punk collective Marjinal came to play here in 2013, I hosted one of their workshops right here in this room. Marjinal taught us the basics of woodcut printing, and I was blown away by the beauty and versatility of this style. That’s how we got Pangrok Sulap started, and we developed our own style and designs from there.”
“Look at this,” Leong says as he walks to his library and pulls out a volume on the work of Taring Padi, an art collective, that is an influence for his own group. Hailing from Yogyakarta, Java, Taring Padi is known for its grassroots involvement in Indonesian politics and its provocative, proletariat-focused woodcut artwork. Freddy, who has been quietly at work rolling black ink over one of the wood matrixes, chimes in. “Punk has more urgency when I immediately understand songs’ lyrics,” he says. “Foreign bands singing in English are, of course, influential because they invented the genre, but their lives and backgrounds are very far from ours,” he says. That’s the reason why most of Pangrok Sulap’s artwork uses Bahasa Malaysia, the official language of multi-ethnic Malaysia, to convey their messages.
Action, as Freddy mentioned, is not just limited to the production and sale of slogans printed on posters and t-shirts. Pangrok Sulap travels around Sabah, spreading revolutionary messages to as many people as possible through their art. Leong and Freddy tell me about a series focused on illegal immigration from Indonesian Kalimantan. In one project, the group focused on Indonesian immigrants selling cheap contraband cigarettes in Sabah. “We printed a series of posters to remind people how important it is to stop buying from illegal immigrants and support our locally produced cigars. Our tribal elders still hand-roll them as one of the main sources of their livelihoods,” Leong says. Cigars are sold at Ranau’s market, where the art punks plastered their posters. One depicts two old women in conical hats holding a round basket full of kirai asli, the original Kadazan-Dusun cigars. A sentence in Bahasa Malaysia reads, “If you want your own race to prosper, you must buy your cigars from these aunties.”