”I use my experiences of being a brown Muslim woman to highlight stereotypes ingrained within my community through installation strategies. My body of work debunks cultural myths created by society and explores stigmas related to my identity.’’ The statement alone is enough to place Azzah Sultan in the forefront of conversation.
The 27-year-old artist began making waves globally soon after receiving her master of Fine Arts from Washington State University. This garnered her attention at shows in Paris and around the United States, including New York, Washington, Maryland, and Connecticut. But if her accomplishment isn’t enough to showcase her reputation, Azzah Sultan, a Malaysian native born in Abu Dhabi, also said to have grown up in Saudi Arabia, Finland, and Bahrain—so as you can probably tell, she’s no stranger to a multicultural society.
”I choose to represent what I’ve gone through and if people are able to relate to that then that’s great! If they don’t, then that’s ok too”
‘’My art shows how I navigate being Muslim, Asian, and all the other identities that I embody. But I also try to make it open for others to see themselves in it too. My last show, Batu Belah Batu Bertangkup, focused on the relationship between a mother and her eldest daughter. This show highlighted the roles within family dynamics, mental health, and unfair responsibilities placed upon women in society,’’
”I use my experiences of being a brown Muslim woman to highlight stereotypes ingrained within my community”
The daughter of diplomat Dato’ Syed Sultan Idris also extended her explanation on the notion of her projects. ‘’Often, artists of color are subjected to being the poster child for an entire community, race, or faith. Which is a pretty tough responsibility. I choose to represent what I’ve gone through and if people are able to relate to that then that’s great! If they don’t, then that’s ok too!’’
When asked about struggles she encountered as a South-East Asian artist paving her way to the international stage, she simply answered, ‘’The lack of understanding of my culture and faith’’. Azzah also stated how she is not ashamed—and will never be—to exercise her faith and exhibit her culture on a global platform, and even urged people to passionately embrace our identity—particularly as Malaysians.
‘’There are a lot of traditions in our culture that aren’t being cherished, I feel like we are starting to lose touch with our past. There are things I treasure and don’t want to ever compromise to make a Western audience feel more comfortable.’’
She also shared that she always looks back to Tschabalala Self, Carrie Mae Weems, Bouchra Khalili, and Nam June Paik for inspiration, but her parents remain her major muse. But if she could choose to collaborate with any artist, dead or alive, she aptly replied, ‘’Emily Jacir! She’s such a huge inspiration for me. I love how her activism is illustrated through her work, portraying the displacement of Palestinians through unapologetic and thought-provoking art.”
”There are things I treasure (in culture, tradition and faith) and don’t want to ever compromise to make a Western audience feel more comfortable”
To close off, Azzah stated clearly that she is the ringmaster of her own act and would always find a way to convey her inner genuine self while remaining unapologetically herself. ”I am the prime storyteller of my art, the performer, and a distant viewer of my work […] I see it as an extension of the people in my life.”
Azzah Sultan’s first solo show in Malaysia will take place at Rissim Contemporary Art Gallery starting August 13th 2023 onwards.