If you're a Malaysian based in New York, don't be surprised if you're roaming the streets there and suddenly pass by a gallery emblazoned with the words 'Anak Dara'.
If you do see the space by boutique art firm Trotter&Sholer, make sure you head right in cause you'll be greeted by a collection that screams 'Malaysia'.
'Anak Dara' is the first solo show by talented artist Siti Azzah Syed Sultan, or better known as Azzah Sultan, who was born in Abu Dhabi but grew up right here in Penang.
In fact, the whole collection was inspired by a family trip to Penang in December 2019.
In an earlier interview with Whitehot Magazine, Azzah explained that the show was based on how she relates to the colors, smells, and the touch of home - home being Malaysia.
“Back home, I'm not seen as Malay enough. That’s something I really struggled with. Making this work tied to my Malaysian culture, it isn't for me to feel like I'm accepted by my culture, but for me to feel like I've accepted my culture myself as well," she was quoted saying in the interview.
For 'Anak Dara', The 24-year-old artist with a BFA from Parsons School of Design and an MFA from Washington State University experimented with textures, silluettes, fabrics and sounds to tell a beautiful story.
Intrigued by the Malaysian inspired artwork, Rojak Daily reached out to Azzah and here's what she had to share about 'Anak Dara':
Q: Why 'Anak Dara'? Could you tell us more about the inspiration behind your first solo show?
The term 'Anak Dara' itself is a Malay term that translates to a young and unmarried child, as well as a virgin. I am re-framing it into a different context: as a term of endearment, my mother often uses.
Growing up in Malaysia, our culture and customs are all very important areas of familial focus. It is important to not lose touch of who we are; the rite of passage to transfer knowledge which is traditional to pass on from one generation to another.
For me, religion and culture is a fundamental point of my identity, as I am physically seen as Muslim with my hijab. But within my art I try to display those parts of my identity in a more nuanced way, where it doesn't just symbolize the entirety of who I am but it is just a part of me, there is still so much more to me.
The body of work for 'Anak Dara'
almost serves as an altarpiece, enshrining my culture by representing it through visuals, smells, colors, and texture. Through the use of mixed media, I am allowing the viewer to be overwhelmed with various visual signifiers that takes up a huge space.
This installation is a tribute to where I am from, an investigation of how I perceive myself through garments and objects of personal memories. The viewer is invited into this space to reflect on their own personal connections to their past and cultural background.
Q: How many artworks are featured in the show and which is your favourite?
There are five main installations in this show: Melipat, Membalut, Memasak, Menyentuh and Pukul Enam.
A lot of the fabrics and materials I used in my body of work come from my hometown in Penang, Malaysia. I was able to find fabrics, spices and objects of nostalgia simply by exploring my hometown with my parents and having them a part of the process of collecting these materials.
A word that has stuck with me whilst exploring my thesis idea is Adawx, a Tsimshian native term to illustrate the oral history, recording, recollections of traditional practices and storytelling.
Through the use of translating my mother’s instructions on how to make sambal, a Malaysian chili paste dish, I am translating an oral history through performance art in my piece Memasak, meaning “to cook”. This is my favourite piece throughout the show as it makes me think of home the most.
The sambal dish is a very basic and staple part of any Malaysian cuisine, it enhances the flavour of the food and opens up your appetite. This performance piece is part chronicle and part remembrance, the action of my mother cutting these ingredients and incorporating them into a dish holds healing qualities for me.
The image of my mother cooking in the kitchen is a very prominent one, it not only stimulates aromas that I can recollect but also traces back to the actions and events that occur surrounding the food being prepared. The gaze is important within my work, for the piece 'Memasak' there is a huge lack of it.
As a viewer, you can’t see my face and you’re unaware of where my gaze is while my mother is only represented through her hands which creates a mirror dialogue to my hands that are being shown.
There is a disruption of who is being represented within this piece and our only evidence is the colors, fabrics, jewelry, and voice that is being shown and heard.
Q: What was the most challenging piece to put together?
The most challenging piece was 'Melipat'. The art piece 'Melipat' hints towards the human form without actually representing its physical attributes but using clothes to fabricate the body.
Each mixed media display of a figure is based from images of myself when I was young and used to perform Malaysian dancing which was taught by my mother and a way for her to expose my sister and me to our culture as we were constantly travelling and living in places outside of our home country.
There is a personal tie to the way the figure is displayed, these first started off as paintings but I decided to take it out of the two-dimensional realm and include textiles to display the body as if it was coming out of the canvas.
Each canvas has an acrylic painting of garments and or a veil that drapes over to convey the presence of a body. I cut, stitch, and fold the batik fabric to produce specific traditional Malay clothing’s, this is handstitched onto the canvas and creates a great contrast against the burnt sienna acrylic painting.
Hand stitching each fabric onto the canvas was what made this piece very time-consuming.
Q: Have you had quite a number of Malaysians dropping by and what has the response been like so far?
I have recently moved back to New York, and this show in a way helped me connect to the Malaysian community here.
I've had a lot of support online, and through the show, I am getting to know the Malaysians that are here and part of the art community.
The response has been amazing and very overwhelming. I'm the type of person that's always doubting my work, and having people come through and support my art has been very emotional.
It really makes me believe that what I am doing is something big and I have a future in it.
Q: What's next for you? Any future projects that you would like to speak about?
I am currently focusing on art more full time and doing a bit of freelance work for graphic design and artistic direction.
I have plans for a new body of work and will be done hopefully by the end of this year. I am currently being represented by Trotter and Sholer gallery here in New York.
Q: Any advice for budding artists in Malaysia? Perhaps advice on how to bring their works abroad.
There is a future in making art, it doesn't just have to be a hobby. At times as a young artists back home we don't feel a lot of support as there is lack of funding towards the art, but the internet is such a big tool to let our works be known, so use that as an advantage.
In terms of bring your works being shown abroad, connect to as many art collectives through their website or Instagram. Build that relationship and keep posting your art.
Q: Would you consider bringing 'Anak Dara' to Malaysia?
I would love to! It is a piece I have made that is an ode to home. It has been hard to get press on my work back home, so if there is an interest then I am more than happy to feature my work in Malaysia.
'Anak Dara' will be featured Trotter&Sholer until 27th September. The exhibition is open to public from Tuesday to Sunday, 12pm to 7pm.
If you're interested in more of Azzah's work, check it out at azzahsultanstudio.com.