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Meet Sayang – the artist who is connecting Leeds to Queer Malaysia

DJ and Activist Sayang. Image credit: TIto Nicolau

Sayang is one of the brilliant seed commissioned artists working as part of LEEDS 2023’s The World in Our City, the City in Our World project.

My name is Sayang, and I’m a non-binary Trans, Malaysian/British sound artist, DJ, and activist. I’m based in Leeds and was born in Malaysia, and I know how vital it is for us all to be able to express ourselves and create safer spaces for us to understand one another.  

I think that the best way to understand what a person is all about, particularly someone who might be different from yourself, is through art and culture. It’s always why I visit a gallery or go on the hunt for incredible street art whenever I visit a new place, or when I go back home to Malaysia. It allows you to gain insight into someone’s mind, views and stories – not an edited or glossed over version – and this is why different avenues of creativity, especially music and art, are so important in understanding people’s true and authentic selves.   

I believe that everyone needs the opportunity and space to be able to express themselves through creativity. A lot of my work centres around creating safer spaces in Leeds; places for everyone to feel comfortable, particularly those who may feel marginalised because of their identity. Creating safer spaces is a constant journey and the first and most important thing is to always be open, to learn and to keep accessing as much information as you can to support your community and the communities you want to access your space.  

We’re in a privileged position to be able to talk openly in Leeds, so I’m using that to showcase queer Malaysian stories for my next project. I’ve been working with groups and individuals in Malaysia to celebrate the queer stories that exist and have long existed before colonialism, and I feel incredibly excited about it. It’s all part of LEEDS 2023’s British Council project, The World in Our City, the City in Our World, which will see five Leeds-based artists work with artists from around the world to develop ideas that could be realised in Leeds and collaborating countries in 2023. 

I love that The World in Our City is all about telling stories beyond Leeds and working with international artists, connecting people from the city and around the world as part of our year of culture. Leeds is such a vibrant place, full of life, stories, talent, and diverse creators. Everyone’s voices need to be heard and I feel that this project represents the city in its entirety, diasporic communities and all.  

I’m most looking forward to seeing the wonderfully talented people I know in this city grow and be part of it. I’m also excited to discover new artists and creators from Leeds and connected countries. Through this collaboration, I now have a queer family back home in Malaysia and the prospect of that makes me unbelievably happy.   

For more information about The World in Our City, the City in Our World, follow @leeds_2023.   

This article was first published in the Yorkshire Evening Post on 30th October 2021.