Photographer OG Sunky’s ‘Vignettes of Co-existence’ exhibition explores the themes that come with colourism, celebrating cultural identification and acceptance through visual excellency
by AZALEA AZUAR / Pics source: sunkyog.com
IT WAS a rather explosive day at the Parliament on that fateful July 13.
Uproar from the Opposition MPs and netizens alike erupted when Baling MP Datuk Seri Abdul Azeez Abdul Rahim had somehow offended many when he insinuated that Batu Kawan MP Kasthuriraani Patto was a little too dark that it would help if she had some “bedak” (powder) on.
Jelutong MP RSN Rayer stood up and demanded that Abdul Azeez retract the remark, which turned into an ugly shouting match, witnessed live by many Malaysians.
The following day, the new Dewan Rakyat Speaker Datuk Azhar Azizan Harun ordered the Baling MP to apologise and retract the alleged racist and sexist remarks against Kasthuriraani.
Abdul Azeez abided by the Speaker’s ruling, but in his defence, he said he had no intention in calling anyone dark.
The Batu Kawan MP later thanked the Speaker, although she still maintained that it was a racist and sexist comment.
While the incident is still being talked about, one thing is clear — having fair skin is quite an obsession among some in South and South-East Asian countries.
Many still associate fair skin with beauty. Some mothers would wish their babies were born fairer. There are those who would even stay out of the sun in fear of getting dark.
Times are changing with many movements striving to change the perception. More women are now taking a stand against skin-brightening products with the global #unfairandlovely online movement.
Major beauty products and cosmetic producers are joining the bandwagon to be more politically correct as well.
Unilever plc, for instance, has distanced itself from promoting skin-brightening products via its conglomerates Johnson & Johnson and L’Oreal SA.
Dark-skinned models are also appearing in more advertisements now.
Joining the fight against any form of discrimination is Nigerian visual artist
Olasunkanmi Ogunade who uses his fine photography skills to advocate the importance of self-love and mental health awareness, while putting a stop to racism.
Commonly known as OG Sunky, the photographer in July held an exhibition entitled “Vignettes of Co-existence” which explores the themes that come with colourism.
The exhibition also celebrated cultural identification and acceptance through visual excellency.
“This theme was to use a combination of three major aspects. It was about anti-bullying. It was about creating awareness for the Black Lives Matter — which is still going on now,” he said.
The exhibition was also meant to boost one’s self-confidence and to support beauty in various forms.
“I also wanted people to see that there’s beauty in co-existence. It doesn’t matter what the colour of your skin is, whether you’re a Chinese, Indian, African or whatever. We can co-exist and share emotions and show ourselves love and affection,” OG Sunky said.
The best way he could do to reach that goal was to come up with different images that would appeal to different types of people.
“In the exhibition, I had a section that was against bullying and body shaming. People who are big size lose confidence in themselves because they feel like they’re not appropriate enough,” he said.
The exhibition was also his way of showing positivity while enlightening people, especially those who have the wrong narratives on Africans.
OG Sunky said many people think Africa is a country by itself, and he wants to change it.
“Africa is a continent, not a country. By doing this too, it is also an advantage for the locals too. The Malays, Indians, Chinese co-exist, too.
“I mean, if there’s no co-existence between these people, then who am I?” he said.
Back in Nigeria, OG Sunky studied Mass Communication before he continued his studies at Universiti Putra Malaysia in Serdang, to complete his doctorate in Mass Communication, Branding, Perception and Imagery.
“At some point, I will tell people that I want to be a model, I’m an actor, but it wasn’t so relevant. They don’t take you seriously. So, I was looking for a way to be more serious. They won’t take me seriously until then I started journalism!” he added.
OG Sunky’s entrance into photography started earlier in college when his father bought him a camera.
The adventure in photography continued in Malaysia when he met another African professional photographer who was based in Kuala Lumpur.
“When people ask me about my style, I’d tell them that my therapeutic purpose is ultra-modern style,” OG Sunky said.
He also enjoys taking photos of skyscrapers and admires aesthetics.
“So, it’s a combination of the latest trend with colours and skyscrapers. I like architecture. I love it. I love the curves, high buildings, the shapes and beauty,” he said.
Racism in Malaysia
Like every foreigner, when OG Sunky first landed in Malaysia, he experienced a fair share of culture shock.
“I don’t know where to actually start. The general life here was tough. It was really tough. I’m from Africa, so coming here shook me to my roots. It was hard. It took me a lot of time to blend in,” he said.
One of the earlier problems he encountered in Malaysia was communication. OG Sunky said he speaks fast and locals have difficulty understanding him.
“I had to break it down and speak slowly. That’s how you have to speak because if I speak fast, they will not understand me. It was hard for me to get taxis to get on trains,” he recalled.
OG Sunky also took time to appreciate local food that he thought was too spicy. Eventually, he learned to love it.
“But it took me time to enjoy food like tomyam, asam pedas, fish curry and nasi lemak. It was tough when I first came. During the first three months, my tummy was all over the place,” he added.
Unfortunately, Malaysians have a negative perception of Africans since they are always stereotyped as criminals and gangsters.
Last year, Namibian High Commissioner to Malaysia Anna Namakau Mutel accused the Imigration Department of conducting racial profiling on her two nephews.
She even said they had done a lot of profiling in the past and used Africans as its targets.
There is also the issue of landlords who don’t want to rent out their properties to certain races.
“There was this guy who spat on my face, and told me to ‘go back to Africa’. When he did it, his kids were there! So, it was heartbreaking because I’m like ‘Yo bro, what are you teaching these kids?’”
There were also people who’d cover their noses when they were around him in trains and public transport.
“I think you’d get used to it…The longer you spend your time here, it doesn’t freak you out anymore. I’d always tell people — we have bad eggs…but not everybody’s bad,” he said.
OG Sunky believes that racism is caused by close-mindedness. He has travelled to many places, mostly to Europe, and he admitted that he has not experienced as much racism outside Malaysia.
Not many also realise that there’s a Malay diaspora living in South Africa called the Cape Malays, who were brought into the country as slaves by the Dutch more than a century ago.
“Most of these people here don’t know that we have Asians in Africa. People just need to know. That’s why we need to do more stuff like this to talk about it, so that they can open up their mind,” said OG Sunky.
He said Malaysia is a very colourful and diverse country, with still so much to unravel.
OG Sunky has worked with different NGOs for his projects, including with Impish Studio and Live to Inspire.
He collaborated with Impish Studio last year during their “Open Mic and Express Yourself 2019”, which was a mental health awareness campaign.
Impish Studio MD Lydia Akio Josset said when she was first introduced to OG Sunky, she was attracted to the colours and stories behind his photography.
Josset then decided to use the photographs for a mental health awareness campaign.
“I used a lot of his imagery and related it to mental health issues that people are facing — bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, so on and so forth…”
Impish Studio has been heavily campaigning on the core concept of humanism and loving kindness via four major areas, which are mental health; educating the young; the environment; and human rights.
Josset said mental health awareness is something that’s not been widely discussed in Malaysia.
“We want to really connect with the people in the four core areas,” she added.
In general, it is difficult for people, especially those who are secretive and reserved to open up, and that’s where the Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) and Befrienders come in.
“We linked with MMHA and Befrienders, and we realised that understanding to cope by talking is so important. You need to express yourself first. You don’t even know that you have a problem until you really talk,” Josset said.
Impish Studio is also working with Pertubuhan Kebajikan dan Pendidikan Puchong, Selangor (PKPPS), that has been dealing with minority children for over 40 years.
“We connect with minority children from different racial backgrounds. You would be surprised that you have the Orang Asli settlement in Puchong as well, who actually come for this free tuition that PKPPS provides,” she said.
Impish Studio was envisioned to be involved in awareness campaigns in 2020, but due to Covid-19, everything seems to be trickier.
As a solution, the social media will be the main platform for all the campaigns.
“This is another way that we can get the awareness campaign across to people. We need Malaysia to be really open. We need to actually talk…” Josset added.