This quote, by Matshona Dhliwayo, is what came to mind when I first caught a glimpse of Acacia Diana’s body of work, “Faraway Blooms”. The photographical series, lensed by Diana, casts light on successful Malaysian women who’ve made a name for themselves in the United Kingdom – far away from the roots and soil of their Malaysian home.
In this body of work, Diana features some instantly recognisable faces. Dr Amalina Che Bakri and Haliza Hashim Doyle are two women, who even prior to this feature, come to mind when the topic of “successful Malaysians overseas”, comes up. Anisa Sanusi, Sue and Kat are younger Malaysian women who’ve made a name for themselves in their respective fields on British soil.
“Faraway Blooms” highlights some important topics that matter to the urban Malaysian woman; brain drain, thriving within the patriarchy, identity, and deviating from societal expectations to name a few. I suppose this body of work raises a question in my mind: “Would these women have been given the right tools to unlock their fullest potential had they remained in Malaysia?” This collection celebrates the uprooting of your familiar life, creating new stories outside of your familiarity, and then exceeding the archaic expectations that have been set in place for you. In this case, these expectations come in the guise of the narrow and confining expectations placed on Malay Muslim women in Malaysian society at large.
Visually, and for lack of better words, this collection is striking. Diana collaborated with the internationally recognized artist, Shahrina Shahrin, whose signature style never disappoints. Their use of mixed media resulted in a loud and colourful visual crescendo. Each portrait is surrounded by abstract renditions of the protea flower to symbolize strength and resilience. The frangipani, which comes up again and again across this body of work, symbolises devotion, and the poppy, symbolises sacrifice – qualities that are present in these notable women. The portraits even strike me as Kahlo-esque to some degree, in the way their eyes gaze so strongly at me while colours form a bold, harmonious blend in the background.
Its feature being for an International Women’s Day exhibition is a fitting one, as we are left to wonder whether Malaysia provides the right soil for its feminine seeds with the most potential to flourish.