Introducing food through art

Food brings people of all races and religions together, says illustrator of children’s book


THE much-anticipated lunch hour announces its arrival.

You rush off to the nearest eatery to answer the calling of your biggest craving, nasi lemak.

As you savour the fluffy fragrant rice with its condiments, have you ever thought about the journey of each ingredient from its origin onto your plate?

Afi has credited her inspiration to famous artists such as Bacon and Longshore

This is where Afiqah Sulaiman (picture), or Afi, comes in. Through her artwork, she could change the way you think (or even eat) your food.

Just like the artists portrayed in movies, Afi’s studio is messy with splashes of paint on the walls and floor.

When she talks, she is full of expression.

The 23-year-old often leaps with joy when she gets excited, while her eyes reflect both dreaminess and frenzy.

What makes her stand out from the rest is her ability to tell the stories of food through art, and this is shown in a children’s book she wrote and illustrated, called O Nasi, O Lemak.

“Nasi lemak is loved by all. It’s our national heritage,” she says passionately.

Afi chose food as her subject matter as food does not discriminate. In fact, she said, food brings people of all races and religions together, and she is sending this message out to children.

“I am passionate about putting a stop to discrimination (based on) race, religion, gender, or even appearance. I want to make a difference in the world, starting with the kids,” says the artist, who had previously worked at a kindergarten.

When illustrating O Nasi, O Lemak, she decided to use a scrapbook approach, with bright and colourful collages, and a lot of textures to attract her target readers.

“Most of the illustrations were done (with) digital art tools like Procreate. It’s convenient and much faster. I can just do or undo something quickly compared to traditional art.”

Afi’s art style is inspired by a lot of artists, including Francis Bacon and Ashley Longshore.

O Nasi, O Lemak uses a scrapbook approach, with bright and colourful collages and a lot of textures

Her logo, “AFI”, is in pink and purple, a homage to her childhood. It is not just her nickname, but a clever play on the acronym for “A Food Introduction”.

Afi recently graduated from Young Art Entrepreneurs (YAE!), a programme by the National Art Gallery that teaches young artists from any background to hone their entrepreneurial skills in order to thrive in the creative industry.

“I actually took a gap year in my study to become an artist. That’s why I decided to take up this programme, which I accidentally found during my visit to the Art Expo in Matrade Exhibition and Convention Centre (MECC) last year.”

Afi is currently pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Architecture at Newcastle University in the UK, but is now back in Malaysia for a gap year and will resume her second year in September.

She commented on her future: “My ambition is to be an architect, but I also want to write and illustrate children’s books. So, my plan is to finish the degree and pursue architecture, but at the same time, continue to work on children’s books as much as I can.”

Her paintings and illustrations will be on display at YAE!’s exhibition in the National Art Gallery from July 17 to 30.