‘Sweet and Sour’ — a duo exhibition at ZHAN Art | Space

An art exhibition centred around the representation of the popular chicken dish 

by HAZATUL SYIMA HARON / Pics source: ZHAN Art | Space

THE paintings and sculptures on show at the “Sweet and Sour” exhibition certainly piqued my curiosity. 

With such a title, depicting the sweet and sour chicken dish, maybe I expected a lot more food-centric pieces. Don’t get me wrong, there were quite a few. But many go beyond that. 

What the duo Alya Hatta and Leily Moghtader Mojdehi were exploring were the multi-faceted reality of being Asian through story-telling, and reimagined personal myths and narratives. 

Some of the paintings at the ‘Sweet and Sour’ exhibition

While inspired by the sweet and sour chicken dish, the exhibition is meant to reflect a paradoxical reality. Widely popular across Asian restaurants in the West, the dish is, however, common in the East. 

It is with that notion that the London-based artists reimagined and reinterpreted the authenticity of Asian culture in this “Sweet and Sour” exhibition. The audience gets to explore their works through the lenses of a world of implied meanings and suggestions. 

The Collection 

Alya with her sculpture ‘5 Feet’

The “Sweet and Sour” exhibition features 15 vivid pieces, ranging from figurative paintings to abstract renderings, which can be experienced as an exercise by the artists to establish new spaces for unplaceable experiences. 

Nine of the artworks are by Alya and the rest by Leily. All 15 are up for sale and at press time, one of Alya’s pieces has been sold. The exhibition also features five small hand-painted and crafted sculptures by the duo, however, these are not available for sale. 

While Alya reaches deep into her memory bank to create artworks of what it was like growing up in Malaysia, Leily focuses instead on the richness of her Iranian/Singaporean/British family heritage and their respective traditions. 

Despite referencing different Asian origins, each of their work is an exploration of becoming and being Asian. As a collective whole, the exhibition acts as a reminder of how personal memories can influence our perception of the Asian self. 

“As Asians based in the UK, both Leily and I were made aware of how our ‘Asianness’ is oftentimes reduced to a simple takeout dish sold in Styrofoam boxes. We wanted to put up an exhibition which showcases our Asian roots and how we can build and narrate our own stories, the way it should be told as we experience them, and not how others perceive it to be,” shares Alya. 

ZHAN Art | Space co-founder and curator Desmond Tong said said the art gallery is thrilled to be showcasing the works of Alya once again. 

“This time, Alya has partnered Leily, whose works explore trans-cultural identity. Together, the ‘Sweet and Sour’ exhibition showcases some of their most personal stories and imagined myths, and we believe the artworks will appeal to many, especially those who grew up on a rich diet of Asian values and traditions.” 

Leily with some of her artworks on show

The Artists 

Drawing on personal experiences and memories, Malaysia-born Alya uses the dynamism of colour, form, sound and space to explore the realm of both digital and physical art space. Her works often represent her South-East Asian identity, but also portray the colourful intimacies of the diasporic human condition. 

Based in London and Kuala Lumpur, the interdisciplinary artist obtained her BA Fine Art at Goldsmiths, University of London, before pursuing the MA Painting Course at the UK’s Royal College of Art. 

Alya held her fourth solo show in London in August this year, and has exhibited internationally in London, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Milan and Sydney, among others. She is also a member of the “Unamed” and “FloorFive” art collectives; the latter now engaged in a year-long residency at Goldsmiths CCA. 

Meanwhile, Leily was born in England but raised in the Middle East. She has a multiracial mixed identity of Iranian, Singaporean and British. 

Also based in London, the inter-disciplinary artist’s works are multifaceted, often taking form in mixed media, textile collages and ceramics. Her works often revolve around a personal narrative, which Leily reinterprets and reimagines to explore her transcultural identity and liminal state of being, as well as to subsequently address the socio-political concerns internal to this context. 

The outcome of this playful mixing are works of gentle confusion between the real and the representational in densely layered collage compositions, which tells equally comforting and discombobulating stories. 

As of 2022, Leily has exhibited in London, completed her first solo show with Four You Gallery and was selected to be part of Bloomberg New Contemporaries. She also graduated from Goldsmiths and is currently engaged in a year-long residency at the Goldsmiths CCA as a founding member of the “Floor Five” collective. 

The “Sweet and Sour” show is ongoing at ZHAN Art | Space in Petaling Jaya till Nov 9, 2022. Alya and Leily’s paintings are available for purchase, with prices ranging from RM2,700 to RM20,000.

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition