When it comes to celebrating diversity and unity, we are likely to hear “I don’t see color” comments among Malaysians.
However, celebrating the multiculturalism of Malaysians with color blindness wasn’t right for Faye, Rachel, and Jon.
“For us, the beauty of a multicultural Malaysia shouldn’t be diluted to shades of gray, because the beauty lies in our colors,” Faye said in an interview with Vulcan Post.
In 2016, the trio decided to bring their vision to life with The Rojak Projek, a series of conceptual artworks featuring their friends’ Malaysian food.
Using Nasi Lemak to “paint” portraits
Their project started with a large gathering of some friends they call The Rojak Party.
Their 5th Rojak Party at Tom, Dick and Harrys Damansara / Photo credit: The Rojak Projek
“I realized that we can all relate to food. Our food has always been a gesture of peace that allows us to sit, eat and enjoy each other’s company despite our differences, ”explained Faye.
Thirty people invited to the meeting came to meet and eat, and later had Jon’s photo of them.
Their photos were then printed in black and white and the outlines traced with a variety of Malaysian dishes such as Char Kuey Teow, Nasi Lemak, Roti Canai, etc.
Portraits with Nasi Lemak, Char Kuey Teow and Roti Canai / Photo credit: The Rojak Projek
In addition to heavy meals like these, they also included local delicacies like murukku, crab crackers, seri muka, pancakes, as well as local fruits like rambutan and mangosteen. These are all bought by yourself.
“When you see the portraits, no matter how many times you try to guess what their ‘race’ is, I can tell you that often you are wrong because you will be surprised at how mixed they are.”
“When people try to guess, I’ll always say ‘no’ until someone says ‘Malaysian’, then I’ll answer ‘yes’,” said Faye.
To fund these events, the founders only reached out to their friends, family, and other contacts to ask if they would be willing to help.
Jon, Faye and Rachel / Photo credit: The Rojak Projek
They want to include more “Lain-Lain” in their work
For Faye, the term initially only meant ethnic groups with which she was already familiar, such as Portuguese and Punjabi, but not indigenous Malaysians.
So they decided to travel to all 13 states to remedy the situation and make a documentary while continuing the Food Art portraits.
One of her many trips during this time / Photo credit: The Rojak Projek
During their travels, they managed to produce 540 portraits of the Malaysians they met along the way and to incorporate more dishes from different states into their food art.
Part of her goals for travel was also to collect lists of various ethnic groups who would otherwise have been classified as Lain-Lain under the name The Rojak Nation.
Most of the information they have compiled in these lists consists of indigenous ethnic groups in Sabah and Sarawak, and the locations of these ethnic groups in their respective states.
One of her greatest milestones in that mission was her inclusion in the video of American vlogger Drew Binsky while visiting Malaysia. He has so far made videos of his travels in 194 countries around the world.
When he got here, Faye and one of the members of The Rojak Projek went to KLCC hoping to share their work with him, but to their surprise, he had already been notified of their work.
They even managed to get an interview with him, which earned them a reputation on his Facebook page.
The work continues despite COVID-19
As part of their goal of creating more awareness that we are less color blind to our diversity, they have also brought their artwork to several exhibitions around the country.
So far, they have worked on collaborations with Maybank, RIUH, Grab, Sunway University, Pakatan Harapan and others.
One of her many exhibitions with RIUH and Grab / Image Credit: The Rojak Projek
Speaking of which, they also worked with RIUH and The One Academy on a video series featuring the Orang Asli from Kampung Sungai Buloh and their stories.
Since their work is mostly traveling and includes taking photos of people and holding personal exhibitions, it is difficult for them to get financial support now and continue the work they did before the pandemic.
In the meantime, Faye is working on securing international partnerships in order to demonstrate her food art and mission.
As of now, Faye is the only one running The Rojak Projek full time, while Rachel and Jon are no longer involved, but continue to support the cause.
- You can find out more about The Rojak Projek here.
- You can read more social businesses that we wrote here.
Selected image source: Faye Lim, founder of The Rojak Projek