An Interview with Artist Tengku Sharil

Coming from a mixed-race family, Tengku Sharil (RI'14) has taken to exploring his identity through his artworks.

What motivated you to produce this work?

As I’m of Malay-Chinese desent, I was interested in exploring the ‘race’ part of my identity. I wanted to talk about the dissimilarity between the two cultures, and this is what served as the starting point. But as the work progressed on, I started to see the work, not just as exploring two different and separate cultures...but looking at them in terms of a mix, or rather the interaction of two different entites. They are like two things that look different on the outside but are actually rather similar in terms of their finer aspects.

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What do you mean by ‘finer aspects’?

For example, when people look at these cultures, people only see the difference on what is outside, like the type of celebrations, rituals, the traditional dressing and foods etc. In my opinion, I find that alot of these different customs and practices, actually stem from very similar values. For one, there is the act of visiting friends, relatives and friends which is practiced during both Chinese New Year and Hari Raya. I feel that both cultures, fundamentally value time spent with family...there is that emphasis on building relationships and the appreciation of people and their presence. Being in my position, I see many parallels between both cultures.

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What does being mixed race mean to you?

I feel that it is a blessing, to be placed in both worlds, to occupy this positon of being, so called mixed race. Having grown up in such an environment where I have family from both sides, and experiencing both cultures from an insider point of view, it really allows me to draw parallels and insights on both cultures from this position. I definitely have a better appreciation of the diversity in our society.

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Do you identify more closely with one of the two races that you have inherited?

No, I don’t...Although I think my situation is slightly different because of the fact that I’m Muslim and the community is largely Malay-Muslim. Coupled together with the fact that these religious ceremonies and gatherings are all Malay-dominated. But ironically my mother tongue is mandarin and that allows me to communicate better with my Chinese peers. If you want me to choose, I cannot really say I’m closer to either one.

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How has the production of this artwork changed any of your sentiments of being mixed-race?

The entire process of creating this artwork was a constant reflection on what it’s like to hold this identity and through it, it made me more thoughtful about the existence of these two cultures. For example, how they fit in society and their position within the spaces we live in today... I feel that through this work, I could offer people a unique and different perspective on how people can view race, especially the position and the significance they occupy and hold in our country. 

Would you like to share any other thoughts?

I really hope people can reflect and look beyond the differences amongst us and to instead, not only be accepting but be appreciative of these differences.

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Tagged Topics

#Alumni #Arts #Stories

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