My most recent project was actually inspired from a line someone had said to me a few months ago.
“Your arms so hairy, go for waxinglah”.
I was so taken aback by what he had said that it festered into a collection of wearable sculptures and performance art videos. The experience was such an eye opener to how the world is constantly being bombarded by unrealistic beauty ideals in the media that support the notion that women are required to be hairless, almost as if we women evolved in such a way that our skin is now smooth, scar-less, devoid of lumps and bumps, and god forbid… HAIR!!
I wanted to challenge these unrealistic notions of beauty with this project, Go For Waxing Lah (yes, I named it after the line that was thrown at me). With hair removal in mind, I became intrigued by the act of putting hair back onto the body instead of removing it, going against what women are “supposed” to do with their body hair.
I began with a performance piece titled, Wax On (performance) (2018), where I waxed my body then taped the hair filled wax strips back on as a way to deal with my cognitive dissonance pertaining to hair removal. It shows my battle between belief and action, where I have a desire to keep up with society’s expectations of how a woman should be hairless although it contradicts my belief in the matter. The violent action of taping and putting it back on acts as a form of apology and regret for having this desire to please by having to reject parts of myself, those parts being my own hair, as well as my beliefs.
Armed with the hair filled wax strips from the performance, I set out to create something pretty and grotesque. I created a dress.
The dainty 2-piece pink wearable sculpture is made out of 160 used wax trips filled with my hair as well as 3 other women’s. I wore this dress in my second performance piece, Hair Ball (2018), where I put a ball of my own hair in my mouth and pulled it out strand by strand. By putting hair, something that is traditionally thought of as repulsive and dirty, into my mouth, something that is reserved for the cleanest of things, I sought to invoke the feeling of disgust. Even though I knew that the hair I used was clean and was obtained from myself, I was gagging throughout the entire performance due to this false idea of hair that is instilled in me. The performance acts as a way to talk about the way society reacts to the presence of body hair on women and how easily something natural can be turned into something frowned upon and looked at as repulsive.
I went on to making hairy realistic wearable silicone sculptures of women’s body parts. Hair is attached to the sculptures in many different ways, exaggerating and playing around with this “disgusting” and frowned upon natural feature that comes with a woman’s body. Due to its realistic characteristics, the sculptures allow the audience to re-imagine their body, almost like putting on someone else’s skin. The sculptures act as a way of accepting and celebrating body hair.
I was inspired to create “iSkin” when I was on the train one day and my phone ran out of battery. I looked up to realise that every single person was on their phone. They were completely glued and mesmerised. Fascinated by the experience, I created iPhone covers resembling human skin out of chicken skin and human hair. The sculptures reflect the inseparable relationship we have with technology and how we are all basically just flesh, metal, hair and plastic fused together, playing on the idea that the more reliant we become on technology we move further and further away from being human, morphing into these hybrids of human and technology. “iSkin” is a literal take on how our phones have become a part of us and how reliant we have become on them. The ephemeral organic sculptures will decay over time mirroring how we will eventually weather away while our creations outlive us.
Could you tell us a bit more about yourself and what makes you venture into Fine Art?
Growing up I suffered from terrible anxiety, an unpredictable wave of panic that would just take over and consume me. Art became a way of tackling what I would later come to realise was a form of mental illness. Through art I was able to create my own imaginary worlds that I could escape to and express what I was going through in a way that words could not. Growing up in Malaysia there was little emphasis on art in school and for a long time I didn’t see being an artist as a serious career option. But my parents, being the lovely and supportive people they are, noticed how much joy making art brought me and the impact it had on me as a person and encouraged me to take my passion and turn it into a career.
Could you name us a few artists that you admire and look up to?
Oh man I have a ton. Sally Hewett, Henrik Uldalen, Emma Hopkins, Jenny Saville, Roger Ballen, Qixuan Lim, Felix Deac, Blast Theory, Ana Mandieta, Basquiat. I could go on for ages. There are so many artists out there that are such an inspiration to me.
How has Malaysia influenced your art?
Malaysian is such a beautiful blend of different cultures. I miss the unique way we Malaysians express ourselves with the meshing of different languages and the word “lah”. I miss Malaysia’s amazing sense of humor and that warm feeling of home and family whenever I come back, especially during the many colorful holidays that we celebrate. There is so much rawness in the city of Kuala Lumpur and there is such an amazing energy about it. I’ve made so many beautiful memories in that city and till this day draw from them when I create art. Growing up there I was surrounded by so many creative people who were immensely supportive and inspired me to create alongside them. I owe so much to these people and experiences because without them I wouldn’t be where I am today
How has Europe influenced your art?
I was incredibly lucky to be given the chance to study in Europe and the US when I was younger. My fellow classmates and the artists that I met in Europe were so brave and honest when it came to their artworks. They were so inspiring and really opened my eyes to the endless possibilities of where I could take my art and how I could use my artworks as a voice to talk about issues and topics that I felt were important. My works definitely play on the differences in culture between these places and home like how there are still many things that are considered taboo in Malaysia, mental illness being one of them. Through my art I hope to shed some light on some of these sensitive topics to allow for conversation to happen and break down the stigma surrounding them.
How was the reception of the Malaysian audience to your artwork?
I was so unsure about how the Malaysian audience would respond to “Go For Waxing-lah” due to it being on a topic that is barely talked about and hair being such an abject material that added this repulsive quality to the collection. But I received such moving messages from people who were able to relate to what I was trying to convey through the artworks, sharing their personal stories with me and saying how the works made them feel more confident about their own body which was amazing to hear and is the whole reason why I make art! But don’t get me wrong there were still a ton of people who were completely repulsed by it… which made me smile secretly on the inside. 🙂
What was your most memorable exhibition?
There is always going to be a special place in my heart for my first joint exhibition titled, Emancipation (2013) with James Ly at Minut Init Art Social. It was the first time I got to see my artworks hung up on walls. The whole experience was such a rush for me because I have always been very critical of my work and to see it being received in such a positive way helped me move past the self-doubt.
What you think of Berlin? Do you wish to have some opportunities to showcase your work there? Any stories to tell of Berlin?
It is a huge dream of mine to go to Berlin and to one day have the opportunity to exhibit there. I’ve heard and read such amazing things about Berlin and the creative energy that circulates that city. Every time a friend of mine goes to Berlin on holiday, they end up moving there. They describe the city as other-worldly, almost as if the city has a gravity of its own. I would love to experience this magnetic pull for myself and immerse myself in the Berlin art scene and meet all the amazing and talented artists that inhabit it.
Do you think Asian Artists and Artworks should have more exposure in Europe?
Oh definitely. I find that art is like a window into the artist’s culture and reflective of the current sociopolitical issues of their country. Art gives people a glimpse into life on the other side of the world. Artists have a unique and raw voice that no other profession has and with it the ability to talk about important and sensitive issues faced in their country. There’s so much you can learn about Asia from its artists and artworks. The way you perceive the world is based on so many different factors like the way you were brought up, your culture, just to name a few, giving Asian artists a unique perspective of the world that differs from artists anywhere else.
How do you think Europe will respond to your Art?
I’ve actually got no idea how they would respond but I am excited to find out. I’m curious to know whether they can relate to my art and what they have to say about it.
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