A photo portrait by Dome Nikong of a boy from the Bateq Tribe in Malaysia.

For a nation built on diversity, we’re surprisingly quick to judge people based on their racial appearance. During the last election, “foreign” looking folks were treated with suspicion, their right to vote questioned. This may have been an ugly effect of the national fever pitch, but for many Malaysians, this questioning doesn’t just come around every five years: it’s a life-long irritation, from awkward questions about mixed parentage to assumptions based on skin colour.

“In school, I used to always check the ‘Others’ column, as there was no column for being Chindian,” recounts Sharmin Parameswaran, art curator and co-owner of Interpr8 Art Space. “I would insist on it with the teachers, explaining (innocently) that I was not only Indian as my mother was Chinese. Needless to say, my column was ‘Indian’ in-line with my surname”.

Now Sharmin has curated an exhibition called “Dan Lain-Lain” which is part of the M50 exhibition at MAP, Publika this month. It consists of huge photo portraits of people who fall into the “Other” category in Malaysia. The portraits are displayed in the Boulevard of the shopping mall and comprise the work of five artists: Dome Nikong, Javad Tizmaghz, Prakash Daniel, Nadirah Zakariya and Junad M.

“With this exhibition, I just wanted to show how truly diverse a Malaysian is. If we had to break our ethnicities down, most of us would be in ‘Others’. I’m rooting for a ‘Malaysian’ identity,” says Sharmin.

Dan Lain-Lain runs at Publika until 30 September as part of the M50 art exhibition.

Ling Low