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‘People Should Look How They Want’: Malaysian Artist Alya Hatta Fights Fetishization and Body Dysmorphia cover

‘People Should Look How They Want’: Malaysian Artist Alya Hatta Fights Fetishization and Body Dysmorphia

It’s hard not to giggle at Alya Hatta’s blobby, inflatable nudes, which bend at illogical angles and pucker at the seams. One such nude—titled “Sleaze Cake”—lives at the center of Alya’s graduation exhibition, Always Greener, a rollicking spectacle made laughable by the back-bending blowup doll posed on a kelly green basketball court. On the court’s walls, Alya’s colorful paintings hang out of bounds, but there are no B-team benchwarmers in sight.

‘Sleaze Cake’ (‘Always Greener’ installation view)
‘ZZZZ’ (‘Always Greener’ installation view)

Alya, who was born in Malaysia and is now based in Kuala Lumpur and London, explores her diasporic experience as a Southeast Asian woman who moved around constantly as a child. Alya’s mercurial childhood led to a fascination with play, a central theme of Always Greener. “I was initially thinking about […] inflatable castles and bouncy castles [from] when we’re younger, but over time, how the idea of play morphs into sexual stuff,” Alya tells Plural Art Mag. “It just reminded me of the number of times I’ve been fetishized as an Asian woman.”

Alya’s figures are fleshy and exaggerated—some body parts surrender to gravity while others defy it. The arms are spindly, the joints are soft and swollen. Both choices are intentional. “I wanted (the sculpture) to look like what I felt like,” says Alya, who has struggled with body dysmorphia from a young age. “I was clear that there needed to be a back roll, and that the ass had to be falling down, and that the titties were like this,” she continues. Playfully posed, the bodies in Alya’s work teeter on the edge of puberty, either unaware of their lewd mannerisms— finger in your Jell-O, anyone?—or unashamed. In further investigation of the relationship between sex and play, Alya has added a second inflatable figure to the mix with her most recent work, “Chub Rub.”

Ultimately, Always Greener encourages us to lighten up a little—things are just fine on your side of the fence, Alya seems to say. “I paint people in the way that I do because people should just look however they want,” she explains, before adding: “Let me have all the lumps and bumps.”

‘It Was All Jello’
‘ZZZZ’
‘A Club’
‘Queens Row’
‘9 Toes’
‘Chub Rub’

Alya Hatta: Website | Instagram

All photos published with permission of the artist.

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Jenna Eberhardt

Jenna Eberhardt (she/her/hers) is NOT REAL ART’s associate editor. Jenna is a writer and working artist from Asheville, NC, who specializes in watercolor botanicals and dreamy moonscapes. A true night owl, Jenna enjoys a minimum of two cups of coffee per day and isn’t afraid of the dark when she’s up late painting. As a registered yoga instructor with a background in health and wellness, Jenna believes in the brain-boosting power of a regular mindfulness practice, regarding rest and relaxation as a necessary part of the creative process.

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