Amid calls for action against an alleged mockery of a national symbol, cartoonist Zunar said the controversial image featured on a book cover should not be seen as a manipulation of the Jata Negara.
Instead, Zunar (above) said the designer would have used the national coat of arms only as a visual reference, rather than to manipulate its original image.
"This is because only one part, less than 50 percent of the whole complete national coat of arms image, was used in this piece of art.
"Manipulation is when someone uses the whole logo and twists one or a small part of the whole logo," Zunar told Malaysiakini.
"To understand this, it is the same as it is forbidden to use the national flag as a whole cloth, but if we take only the strips or only the sun part, I don't think it is against the law," he said.
Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin, who ordered police to take stern action against those involved, had said it is an offence to imitate the coat of arms under Section 3(1)(a) of the Emblems and Names Act 1963.
Zunar, whose full name is Zulkiflee Anwar Haque, argued that an artist should not be held responsible for the public interpretation of their work.
"When we talk about art with messages, the wider the interpretation, the better. For this drawing, the interpretation is very wide and broad.
"The basic principle for this is, 'as an artist, my job is to produce this art, but I am not responsible for other people's interpretation'," he said.
Zunar added he was puzzled by critics who deemed the image as offensive, including Communications and Multimedia Minister Saifuddin Abdullah, who labelled it as "biadab" (insulting).
According to graphic designer Fahmi Reza, the image used on the book cover was an oil painting that was publicly exhibited six years ago.
Zunar said he first came across the painting about two years ago and saw it as an image of a charismatic woman.
"The way I look at it, it is an abstract, self-expression art with a symbolic message and very wide and broad interpretation.
"I am sure if 100 people look at this drawing, they will come out with 100 ways of interpretation," he said.
Noting calls for action to be taken under the Sedition Act, Zunar warned of a potential disaster when individuals with no knowledge of art are given huge powers to police it.
"This creates a disaster in our art landscape.
"It is very dangerous when the authorities use their interpretation and use a law such as the Sedition Act to justify their actions," he said, stressing that elements of racial politics have come into play in blowing the issue out of proportion.
Police yesterday raided the Gerakbudaya bookstore in Petaling Jaya and seized 313 copies of the book, Rebirth: Reformasi, Resistance, and Hope in New Malaysia, after it came under recent scrutiny due to the use of an image on the cover, which several quarters claimed was an insult to the national coat of arms.
Prior to the raid, Gerakbudaya director and founder Chong Ton Sin had apologised for the cover, stressing that there was no intent to deliberately insult any parties.