For this week's pocket picks we have a project entitled YIN • yang by Malaysian photographer Alia Soraya who is currently studying photography at London College of Fashion. WE ALSO HAD A QUICK CHAT WITH the photographer ABOUT growing up in malaysia and what inspired her to do this project.
YIN • YANG
Could you tell us a bit about your experience growing up in Malaysia?
This is a very broad question, but in a more narrowed context, I’ve always been a neighborhood girl. My parents were very strict, so I wasn’t allowed to go out that much. Both my grandparents live just across the road, and even some relatives too. Growing up, I would always stay In my aunt’s room and listen to some of her CD collections mainly from TLC and SWV. My family’s a hoarder for photos, and I think that’s mainly where I usually get my inspiration from. My mood board often has cut outs from my grandmother’s photo drawer. I'm always home, you could say. Growing up involves a lot of families and a lot of friends. I don’t think my city’s ever been so steadfast as it is right now, it’s quite overwhelming. So I'm still growing up — just away from home at the moment.
What inspired/moved you to focus on interracial couples for your project?
The need to bring recognition to what my country’s about. Commonly, diversity. I know so many people who often feel discouraged to celebrate the person they love just because they’re not equal to race, religion, skin color and social class. They feel discouraged because we live in a society that doesn’t often come encouraging at first but rather see what they choose to believe because of stereotypical opinions that don’t seem to diminish until today. Malays for Malays, Chinese for Chinese and Indians for Indians. The first series of Yin and Yang were close friends that I’ve known for a long time. I had chemistry with them on set and it was easier to navigate the connection and join the dots. You could see who’s Yin and who’s Yang. Although most of them are of the same race and religion, there’s still a need to break the stigma. As a photographer, I was responsible for that.
You've used the term 'Soya Cincau' when you explained your project. Could you explain to those who are unfamiliar with the term?
Soya cincau is a diffusion of soy milk and grass jelly. Also, a common Malaysian term for “The Michael Jackson” drink because of his song Black Or White. We find humor in everything, I would say. Applying this to Yin and Yang, there’s a balance in between both. Weird looking together, but works well when put together.
What do you hope to achieve with this photography project?
Love really is a powerful thing. That’s it. I’m also shedding some light on my south Asian Malaysians that are just like the rest of the world. Representations of media right now are like a graph chart that keeps changing weekly. I have to keep up with it as a creative individual to bring that to my audience. Narrating it in a way where it’s not cultural appropriation but cultural appreciation. I’ve had a girl who sent me a DM one day saying that she hasn’t seen this type of art in a really long time and I feel like that’s a goal unlocked. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter how many likes you get, its the people that entails your workforce.
What brought you to study photography in London?
The growth that I see my friends coming back with after a long period of studying in London and I thought I needed that. The photographers I look up to mainly come from here and what moved me a little bit more was their creative energy and how they configured that. Artistically, I think being in a country that’s very much involved in the creative field you get your fair share of advantages too. I also really admire the collaborative force that you get when you’re here. There’s always somebody that’s up to do something with you. I think if you have financial stability and you get the opportunity to study abroad, you should go for it. It’s a life-changing experience because you become independent — emotionally, physically, mentally. I wouldn’t say that I’ve learned everything from uni, but I’ve definitely learned a reasonable amount of things from London itself. I can't imagine myself being anywhere else in the world.
What is the photography scene like back home and how would you compare it to London? What would you say are some of the biggest differences/similarities between shooting in these places?
Progressing, I would say. The similarity is, everyone’s trying something different and steering away from their comfort zone. We influence one another, and most importantly we’re in this change together. Differences would be, I have more creative freedom here in London and I don't feel the need to conform to the environment I’m in. I can shoot nudity in the park, and it’s still fine. The creative scene in my country struggles to put their work out sometimes because we get condemned for what we try to cultivate and reconstruct back home because people are so used to their hut. Their comfort zone that neglects change. It's problematic because we’re not paying attention and we’re not altering ourselves to change. It disappoints me sometimes because we’re not taught to transfigure but to remain stagnant. Creatively, and occasionally. Make room.
If you could describe your work/style to those that are unfamiliar with your work - how would you describe it?
I don’t prefer answering this question based on my own perspective but rather people who have seen my work. I asked a few of my friends and they listed down a few things. A sense of togetherness. Unbiased, humble, thought-provoking and culturally stimulating. My work is properly curated, per se. Direction would be free flow.