Malaysian Design: Rojak, Batik and a Fusion of Colours


A Little Bit of Myself.

I’m Mike Tan, I’m a Malaysian Chinese. Malaysia is a little country in south east Asia. We’re north of Singapore and south of Thailand. I myself live in a little island called Penang, dubbed as the Pearl of the Orient by travelers almost a century ago. I’m a creative editor, a job that mixes creative ideas with design processes, and I have been in involved in graphics, design and printing for the past 5 years.

Malaysian design in a word.

RojakIf I was asked to describe Malaysian design in a word, I’d choose the word ROJAK. A malay term, rojak literally means mix or potpourri. It also happens to be a name of a fruit dish here in Malaysia. Think of it as a fruit salad, with a spicy kick and you’d come to as close a description as you can get for rojak.

So why rojak? Because Malaysian design usually incorporates a fusion of colours. At times it results in a garish clash of colours, each screaming for attention, while at other times, the colours merge and swirl, each complementing the other, forming such a colourful harmony.
Pic: Rojak, a mixed fruit salad, brings to mind the concept of fusion in Malaysian design. Mind the spicy kick though.

Batik: An example of unique design.

Batik Design Process Process of making batik.

Batik is a traditional art form used in creating vibrant and stunning cloth designs utilizing waxing and dyeing techniques. Traditionally batik designs are hand drawn and dyed, making each item unique. The colours used in batik range the whole spectrum, and often appears in hues as well.

The designs on the cloth vary, featuring a mix of floral motifs, with intertwining flowers and petals, geometric motifs, arranged in interesting and delightful ways, and animal motifs, both real and mythological. Colour schemes include contrasting, complementary, and a mixture of hues.

Batik Picture 1Batik Picture 2Batik Picture 3

Some examples of batik designs. Mixtures of floral and geometric designs, mythological creatures, and domestic animals.

Malaysian Design: A fusion of colours

Design usually is influenced by culture and history, and in this sense, Malaysian design is no exception. It has a rich past, being situated in the between the trade route to China. Through the centuries, it has been influenced by many cultures, both western, such as Portuguese, Dutch, English, as well as eastern, such as Chinese, Siamese, and Indian. Aspects of these cultures were assimilated into Malaysian culture, and thus design as well. Thus the analogy of rojak in the earlier section. Each culture is distinctly unique, yet a part of the whole.

Religion also is one of the factors that influences design. In Europe, many great works of art were inspired by religion. We only have to look at the grandeur of the Vatican City, with the Sistine Chapel if we need an example. Religious influence in Malaysian design can be very obvious at times, in the case of mythological creatures as motifs, and also very subtle as well, for instance in the use of geometrical shapes, which was pioneered by the Muslims. Malaysian designs also draw heavily from nature, with large tropical flower designs, weaving creepers that often form geometrical or symmetrical shapes.

Taking all this into consideration, it comes as no surprise that Malaysian designs tend to be vibrant and colourful, even to the point of being garish at times. It reflects the spirit and soul of a nation that has adapted and assimilated various cultures and religions through the centuries, embracing that which is different, yet all the while, trying to remain the same.

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