Malaysia-born artist and photographer Diana Lui on style, art and narrating the soul

The Paris-based artist shares her fashion aspirations, past career in fashion photography, and why she's not a fashion victim.

Diana Lui gets in front of the camera for a change for our cover story this week (Photography by Shawn Loh/Pixel Pix)

Diana Lui literally dances to her own tune. In a cosy photo studio in one of Kuala Lumpur’s unassuming suburbs, the artist and photographer takes us on a journey, with the seductive deep house sounds of Italian DJ Giorgio Angiuli that evoke the warm vibe of mystical Es Vedrà and Ibiza.

Lui’s musical tastes and favourite island getaway add to the impression of her being a flower child, although what also stands out is her groundedness — a sort of earthy allure.

From our conversation, we attribute this sense of duality to the combination of nature and nurture as we get to know the PJ-born, American-bred Parisian at heart who remains tied to her Malaysian roots. In fact, it was on her recent long visit — which coincided with her latest solo exhibition at the newly renovated Wei-Ling Gallery in Brickfields — that Options invited Lui to interpret fashion seasons her way.

Yet, we soon realise that, for Lui, fashion is not so much seasonal expressions as it is an outlet to manifest different personas. And no matter whether she is in her role as mother, daughter, artist, mentor or free spirit, underlying it all is the uncompromising authenticity of a woman who is at ease with who she is.

We see this firsthand when the 52-year-old former fashion photographer steps in front of the lens. If she feels nervous, for someone more accustomed to being behind the camera, there is no indication. After a few tentative clicks, Lui asks, “Can I play my music?”, then “Do you want me to dance? Can I dance?” Just like that, the energy of the room changes and we are charmed.

She grooves in an Issey Miyake corrugated tie-dye cotton print dress paired with her own ethnic print kimono, as if she has been transported to the Cala d’Hort coast of Ibiza at sunset, or maybe into a realm entirely her own. Still, as she looks into the camera, her eyes reveal someone who is very present, illuminated by the black kohl she has lined on her lower eyelids, the powdered ancient cosmetic favoured by Moroccans and those from the Middle East.

“It protects them from dust in the desert,” she says during makeup, applying it using a porcupine quill. Right below, she added a tiny blue dot to accentuate each eye, the colour similar to her favourite International Klein Blue created by French artist Yves Klein.



For the full story, pick up a copy of The Edge Malaysia (Apr 27, 2020) at your nearest news stand. Save by subscribing to us for your print and/or digital copy.

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