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Malaysian Artist Shieko Reto: ‘Sembur with Style’

By: Melissa Lin


Shieko Reto: Malaysian Artist pur sang

Shieko Reto: Malaysian Artist pur sang

Shieko Reto’s drawings, paintings and illustrations are whimsical, humorous and bittersweet. They are records of daily life experience, interactions and nuggets of experience to inspire and convey stories and meanings as see through her eyes. Her stories and cartoons as told through her zines and her art invite us what it means to live a life of courage, and of being a dreamer from the different depths and dimensions. On Latitudes she shares her personal stories and views on art, and being an artist in Malaysia with us.


Her art can be viewed on Shieko Reto’s blog. She is available for commissions, collaborations and correspondence.


Hallo Sheiko, can you give us a brief run-down and introduction to yourself? Hi, my name is Shieko, I’m an illustrator or artist, I draw & paint, day dream and also think of traveling around world, hello world~!


People have described your work as having a Manga element. What would you say are your personal biggest influences through the years? What things make you happy and smile? Yes initially I have been influenced mostly by Japanese Manga and anime and pop art. I grew up in the 80s so I have absorbed and was warped by most of the 80s cartoon & pop culture.


Things that make me happy are drawings, rainy days if you’re in tropical Malaysia, animals, bicycles, eating together with friends, watching movies with friends, good sex, kisses, hugs, chocolate, coffee, comedy & science fiction, Futurama, Dr.Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, good music, Nofx, Bad Religion, star gazing, day dreaming, thinking of the future etc.

Shieko Reto says: Make Art not War!

Shieko Reto says: Make Art not War!


You graduated as a graphic designer, and worked in advertising for a while. You were also co-founder of the SWS ‘Sembur with Style’ (Spray wit Style), Graffitti crew so you have had experience in many different realms of creativity. How would you describe what you do now, and your focus, if any in your art. After all that I still do ongoing experimenting with drawings and illustrations, I love good line quality, colors, shapes and sizes, how to convey stories in illustrations effectively, visual communication etc etc., besides that I’m still drawing from life experience and helping friends if they need help with cartoons, still produce some zines, do tshirt silkscreening and some painting.


What is art? Art is what it means to be alive. Art is an exhalation after an inhalation, art is what we absorb from our surroundings, art is a tall-tale, art is narration of story in time, art is part of living evolution, art is knowledge, art is creation, art is life. Art is what it means to be alive…hmm yes, cliché but true.


In your zines, and on your blog you write that you are a daydreamer, freelance illustrator, graphic designer and transgender woman. The scenes from everyday life in your visual journal that you draw and share with your viewers/readers often point to the challenges and discrimination that you face as being a transgendered woman in Malaysia. Can you tell us a little more about your perspective and channeling your experiences into art and inspiration? Being a transgender woman or in the lgbtiqxyz (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Intersex and Questioning and every other gender identity and sexual orientation out there) family, we are the minority in this country, there is some lacking in visual storytelling about my community here, there are some cartoons, but often from a non-transgendered person’s view, so their cartoons or comics are often askew, that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing. I guess it’s just telling that a person like me exists, despite the daily bombardment from the mainstream media about my community how their very existence and way of life is wrong, but that’s mainstream media, nobody should take them seriously…

Take this Society!!! By: Shieko Reto

Take this Society!!! By: Shieko Reto


Malaysia is going through massive political shifts in the recent years and there are many artists and activists who have become involved in helping to raising awareness about important ecological, political issues and events, and educating the public about what it means to live in a rich and diverse society. What are your views on where Malaysia is now, politically and socially? Tell us more about your involvement with art and activism and how you feel art engages people and how people can participate. I feel that people are more informed & realize the rotten things that the current regime has done and is still doing. But we need more people to wake up.


I am only involved indirectly like helping with the design & printed materials so I learn gradually…Some issues that I came across are for example: Racial supremacy, Land-grabbing issues by the state government from the indigenous people all over Malaysia, refugees (slave trade) issues, sexuality issues, transgender issues + LGBT issues recently where Seksualiti Merdeka is being politicized, women rights issues, freedom of religion issues (conversion & body snatchers), freedom of speech; the recent peaceful assembly bills that basically tells you to say no to assembly (article 10), equality (article 8), ecological issues like coal plants in Sabah, non-stop illegal logging & more dams being built in Sarawak, & recently the toxic-dumping ground from Lynas in Kuantan.


From all of the above also we also learn about our rights, how to deal with the police & other authorities, making sure they themselves are not above the law, which most of the time they in fact seem to think.


And is corruption becoming normal or cultural? Is capitalism a way of life, is it ok if race & religion are being politicized, I feel a bit gloomy about the country’s future…


From the start the government didn’t do much with regards to promoting art as something so important to our culture (correct me of I’m wrong), that says a lot, I wonder if people express themselves in different ways like becoming mat/minah rempit (a Malaysian subculture of  illegal street racers, often linked to gangsterism) because they miss being involved in art since they’re young? I don’t know and I’m not sure if art can bring change, it can convey messages, but it’s up to the people/sheeple if they can come to realization.

49th Merdeka mural National Art Gallery

49th Merdeka mural National Art Gallery


Do you have some stories or experiences from being involved in the activism scene, or with your exhibitions outside of Malaysia that left a deep impact on you to share? First of all I’m not sure if I can call myself an activist. I’m quite new in the scene and I only help indirectly with illustrations and drawings but I learn from there.


So far I never had any proper exhibition outside the country before. More group exhibitions. Once I joined a group exhibition in Singapore & another one in Japan, where I send out my sketchbook to be exhibited, that’s all. If there’s a chance again why not, I’m happy to join!


What do you most wish to impress upon people with you artworks? Nothing. There’s nothing to impress hehe…if people get the message, that’s good enough.


What are you working on now, and what are your plans for the future? Now, I’m designing a pamphlet for the community, it’s about information how to deal with the police if they stop or detain you and I just finished my friend’s album design, their band is called Ferns. Please check them out!


Any last words or comments you wish to leave us with? Come visit Malaysia to have that ‘Truly Asia’ experience.





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