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Personifying a sense of self

Performance artist Nurin Yusof explores the multifaceted sense of self and belonging in her work

24 Nov 2020 / 10:41 H.

DESPITE her generally shy and introverted disposition, Nurin Yusof described the exhibitionist nature of performing as having a very human and empathetic quality that is ironically addictive and welcoming.

When she performs, she indulges in a deep sense of unadulterated freedom with seemingly controlled insanity, while shifting between her primary character – Nurin Yusof – and her multiple identities such as Nurin Nurin, Tengku Nurin, Nurin the girl child, Nurin Exotic Asian Girl, and just Nurin.

However, the 21-year-old Fine Art student at Central Saint Martins doesn’t recognise herself strictly as a performance artist.

“You could argue that some of my work has performative qualities. It’s a fascinating and uncertain medium that situates me in a form of limbo, whilst simultaneously more present than ever. It’s like navigating a paradox.

“For the sake of the matter, which Nurin do you think is responding to all these questions?” she asked.

Nurin Exotic Asian Girl - posters with a QR code to access Nurin’s work Reconfiguration of Childhood. – COURTESY OF NURIN YUSOF
Nurin Exotic Asian Girl - posters with a QR code to access Nurin’s work Reconfiguration of Childhood. – COURTESY OF NURIN YUSOF

What’s your fundamental approach to art?

“The themes in my work can differ from being a sexualised girl child, to immigration status and language barriers. However, what these themes share is the underlying concern relating to one’s sense of belonging.

“What I do find myself circling around is the idea of truth and believability, typically materialised through text and narration, and from a child’s perspective then rationalising it through an ‘adult’ mindset. Let the two meet and contradict each other. Something will always happen.”

Why did you choose such a difficult, medium as an expression?

“It feels natural. From a practical standpoint, I also wanted to do something with the ‘least’ effort but equally effective. Performance is the perfect fit as I come as I am, and work is made and shared. Of course, there is a lot of thought and preparation from start to finish, but the simplicity of just being is unmatched.

“I don’t care about being understood. You don’t have to understand it and for all that I care, you can miss the point, and only take what you want from it. Feeling lost, angry or annoyed by a piece of work is equally successful to you enjoying it. You’d be surprised how the things you don’t understand creeps up onto you when you least expect it to.”

What differentiates real life from your performances?

“I find that the easiest way of distinguishing this is by having separate Nurins exist simultaneously as Nurin Yusof, who is the enabler of all Nurins.

“Despite the personas, the everyday Nurin does find her way into the performance. It’s possible to separate the Nurin Nurin in performance from the everyday Nurin Yusof, but it’s harder to hide Nurin Yusof from coming out when Nurin Nurin is performing. Think of it this way, Nurin Yusof is right in front of you, but you can’t see her.”

Faceless - a collaborative performance with Marie Cachat. – COURTESY OF NURIN YUSOF
Faceless - a collaborative performance with Marie Cachat. – COURTESY OF NURIN YUSOF

What do you think about the concept of being the artist and the piece of performance art at the same time?

“I don’t. I’m not the art ‘object’ in question. I feel as if I would be putting myself up on a pedestal. The art ‘object’ is the experience that we would share. Even if I do create anything physical, I’m not precious with the tangible product. Nurins are just like any other physical or abstract medium. It’s free for me to access, but may not always be available.”

What does rebellion mean to you as an artist?

“Would you think I’m a rebel? It’s the first time I’m considering this because I somewhat look at my work as just me wanting to think and remember or archive. I’m choosing to not define rebellion, by somewhat defining it – rebellion is something that you decide on your own.”

Talk to us about Unamed Collective.

“Unamed Collective is an art collective of six students from Southeast Asia. We hosted our first physical exhibition last summer at Zhan Art Space and are in the works of a virtual exhibition later this year.

“Other than working towards showcasing our collaborative or personal work publicly, we’re friends who are either displaced physically from home or from the idea of home itself, and we’re supportive of each other about any concerns related to art or not. It’s fun and games but also a space for potential discourse.”

How important is a community to you in terms of sharing your work?

“Would a piece of work exist if it’s not experienced by external bodies? Some days I think work can exist without an audience or community, but on other days I reek of desperation to be seen and experienced by hungry onlookers.”

$!Nurin Loves Ning ft. Yasmine - a 14-day Instagram live performance during the Movement Control Order. – COURTESY OF NURIN YUSOF
Nurin Loves Ning ft. Yasmine - a 14-day Instagram live performance during the Movement Control Order. – COURTESY OF NURIN YUSOF

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