If asked of my lover,
Tell her I have gone,
If asked of my mother,
Tell her I shall return
If Asked of the Police,
Tell them I have Died.
© Azril Khairul Ismail, “Two Phoenixes”; the drawing found within the same cell space as the “Mad Monk” and the
“Warrior”, it was noted on the cell space was supposedly occupied by higher triad gang member, based on several
interviews with the previous wardens.
“The images that appeared in this portfolio carried many kinds of writing. Most of the anecdotes, quotes, and poetry came with very little in the way of bibliography. These graffiti were already anonymous despite the reclusive nature of the inmates whom produced them. I began to realise that there was actually no need to find the authors of the graffiti (futile perhaps), if the intended paper was to have a historical approach. I knew that proceeding with this research would reveal very little about the origin of the graffiti’s authors. As I knew nothing about the writers and had no specific details of the past inmates, it would not be possible to fully explain the drawings’ rationale. However, I do believe that this paper shows my inquisitive nature in looking for a common ground in how this type of graffiti links the inmates to the devotional objects and subjects of their lives, while ignoring their crimes or confessions.
I avoided reflecting these images as a kind of ‘depictive misery’ of incarceration. On several occasions, there were account of many horrifying stories; in the suffering of the inmates that evoked sympathy about the injustices that happened in the prison. On the other, most of the locales suggests think the graffiti might demonstrate a world of ghosts and paranormal, which I found quite interesting aspect to it as it was common for the locales to practice the black arts of magic. However, it was a subject which I do suggest in certain segments of this research as one of the components that builds towards the rationale of the graffiti, though it would not be the main focal point. The drawings of the graffiti within this portfolio goes beyond being about prison reform and social justice. The works may contain some of that, but I know not to get involved in something that needs a much more in-depth examination of the penal system.
I have presented this paper on many occasions, locally in Malaysia and to international audiences. Many questions were raised by it and I welcomed the supportive response. But there was one occasion, when I had presented the paper and was discussing why it should be shared with the world, when I was silenced by the question: “What do you mean by understanding?”. That question, grew and I was obsessed with finding the answer for such a fundamental response. I had assumed that this concept of ‘understanding’ was not important, despite hundreds, if not thousands of hours spent looking at these images. I began to realize that there was no need to begin to explain what these graffiti meant, as the audience had their own capacity to read and experience these images as they wanted without needing my instructions as on how they should be looked at.
The drawings I found were simple and used techniques, which did not follow the usual rules as expected in art drawings. Yet those hard lines on the walls defined the spirit of their makers’ will and certainly carried a different weight compared to drawings done on paper. Over the intervening years, these drawings have remained silently on the dark walls of the prison, and now, these marks will disappear from the world as the wrecking ball plummets into the bowels of the prison.” excerpt from Khairul Ismail’s article Pudu Jail’s Graffiti: Beyond the Prison Cells. Full text can be found here and complete set of images here.
© Azril Khairul Ismail, “Salvation”, graffiti of a large almost two metres high of a cross, alongside it, the wall was
scribbled with various texts from the bible, reflecting words from the gospels of St. John’s, St. Peter, St. Matthews. Although it was interesting on the odd Chinese writings among them, which depicted different tones of rage and metaphorical descriptions of death.