Soraya Jansen 23 London
Categories: Art, DJ, Model

Posted: 13th September 2017

Soraya Jansen is a triple threat. And we don’t mean the “beauty, brains and talent” cliché (although she arguably possesses all three). Soraya (or @Slaya__ on IG) is an artist, model and DJ, with something to say on all counts. In her words, “why would one limit their creativity to solely one medium?” Go figure.

Born in Kuala Lumpur to German-Malaysian parents, Soraya first tried her hand at modelling whilst studying at Glasgow School of Art, before moving to London to model full time. Fast forward to now and she’s opened a Vivienne Westwood show, appeared in Frame’s latest denim campaign, been on the cover of Harpers Bazaar Malaysia and walked for the likes of Giles Deacon, Ashish and Astrid Andersen. But Soraya isn’t your average model. Fully aware of the superficial nature of the fashion industry and its tendency to judge a book by its cover, Soraya holds herself accountable for the negative impact the industry has in provoking the insecurities of young women worldwide. That’s why she found herself stepping into the performance space, in order to subvert feminine ideologies constructed by the male gaze, and to challenge the fashion industry’s white-dominated beauty standards and the preconceived judgements often made by viewers.

Soraya’s performance art is informed by her dual nationality and the ‘otherness’ she felt whilst growing up. “Coming from two completely different cultural backgrounds – yet not physically looking like either – I have always felt like an outsider,” she explains. “The duality of east vs west has always been the main theme in my practice.” It was during her time at University of the Arts, London that Soraya filmed a performance titled “Dunia Orang Putih (The world of the white)”, that addressed the lack of diversity at her college and how that affects the BAME student body. For it, Soraya appeared shackled at the ankles wearing traditional Malaysian attire whilst painting two blank canvases before removing her clothes before the camera. Soraya posted the video on her website, after refusing to participate in her grad show.

When she’s not busy modelling or performing, you can catch Soraya spinning some tracks at Stoke Newington’s BAR A BAR, “where the dj’s booked are inclusive of gender/sex, which makes the idea of female self-expression (i.e. shaking your ass) not for the male gaze, but for the prime purpose of why we all go out, which is to experience the music.”

For her next project, Soraya plans to tackle the food industry via a cooking show that’s designed to dismantle the belief that a plant based diet is elitist, whilst looking at the environmental problems faced by the meat industry. According to Soraya, “one of the hardest struggles as any creative is the constant pressure to produce.” She’s doing a pretty damn good job at it to date. Welcome, Soraya.

Words by Brooke McCord

Tell us about yourself and what you do:I'm an artist, DJ and model. My parents keep telling me that I should focus on one thing, but I think they are confused by our generation more than anything. I also believe that an idea can materialise into so many different forms, so why would one limit their creativity to solely one medium?How did you get into performance art?I work in one of the most superficial industries, where you are judged not by your skills, personality or talent but by your exterior qualities. Having the job of a model is a privilege in itself (which I am grateful for), and I’m fully aware of that, but I’m also aware of the fact that my body is fundamentally being used to sell a product. My face is already out there, and it’s not portraying my vision, but someone else’s. When I see my body being objectified to sell a product, when I see myself being sexualised and only seen as an object- it bothers me. It affects my creativity.  The objectification of women has become so normalised in this male dominated world, and when I think about how I am essentially making money from the weakness of the male gaze, I think I am winning. But I am also making a living from an industry that has such a negative impact on the insecurities of young women (the lack of diversity, unrealistic beauty standards etc), that I also feel a certain responsibility.  By using my body in performance, I am disrupting the cultural associations made with the female body, what was once a commodified object of desire is now a vessel for communication, breaking down the male constructed identity of femininity. So, I think what I’m doing with performance is using this objectification, by playing with the idea of the sexualisation of the female form. Yet the power roles are reversed, where I am in control of the situation, putting my body/my sexuality out there for myself and my own intention, and not for someone else’s. The public perception of beauty has been altered over the years through the influence of fashion magazines as tall, skinny and predominantly white. So already in fashion I feel I am being exoticised for my skin colour, I am always the ‘other’. So, in a performance, because I am a brown woman, I feel that there are already preconceived judgements being made by the viewer, and I’m bringing that to light. By using my body as a medium, I am curating how I want to be presented, but I’m also showing how we have been conditioned to judge the ‘other’. How do you decide on the issues you want to address through your work?Even since I was young my work has always been about ‘otherness’, coming from two completely different cultural backgrounds – yet not physically looking like either – I have always felt like an outsider (even within my own family). The duality of east vs west has always been the main theme in my practice. Tell us about 'The world of the White'…“Dunia Orang Putih (The world of the white)” was a performance I filmed for my degree show drawing attention to the lack of a racially diverse tutor and student body at Camberwell College of Arts. The more my work shifted towards my Asian roots, the more I saw how UAL couldn't accommodate to my research. Every book I wanted wasn't in the library. Every tutorial I had left me dissatisfied. Only two months before my degree show did I come to realise that I was paying for an education where the majority of my superiors and the critique I received was from white straight males.  I wanted to give my course one last chance so before exhibiting my degree show piece I asked my 2nd year tutor "don't you think Camberwell is very white?" Man, I wish I recorded it. He got so awkward, obviously the question had never crossed his mind, despite teaching at a mainly white university, located in one of the most racially diverse boroughs of London.  I have to note that when I use the term white, I am using it as an analogy for institutionalised racism in universities and how it affects the BAME student body. I am not anti-white. I am anti white establishments put in place to cater to a white history, and therefore only a white future. When did you first start modelling?I first started modelling when I was studying at the Glasgow School of Art, it was great as I was a broke art student but it was also very limiting since I was after all in Scotland. I had never been to London before but I was like “fuck it man, I might have a shot”, so I took a year out of uni, moved to London and started modelling full time. My dad was so against it, he literally said to me "you will end up becoming a mattress model living on the street" (he's German but that still makes no sense lol).What should we expect from one of your sets?Feminine expression in all forms! A lot of club spaces in London are so testosterone heavy, where the men are the ones controlling the music and the role of the woman is generally viewed as passive. I first started playing at PDA, where the dj’s booked are inclusive of gender/sex, which makes the idea of female self-expression (i.e. shaking your ass) not for the male gaze, but for the prime purpose of why we all go out, which is to experience the music. What’s your proudest moment in life to date and why? It was pretty surreal being on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar Malaysia, not just as a model but to be interviewed about my degree show performance and Asia’s obsession with whiteness. I was very happy that I could maybe change the minds of a few young girls reading the magazine that brown is beautiful. How would your friends describe you in a sentence?A true Gemini/cancer cusp.When are you happiest?I am definitely the happiest when I am motivated and working. One of the hardest struggles as any creative is the constant pressure to produce.Who do you admire?Women who are driven by their own success and not by pleasing the eye of the man.What song would be playing as you enter the club?Cardi B's "Bodak Yellow"What's your signature dish?Anyone I've cooked for knows it's my Thai green curry.One item of clothing that best sums you up?Man, I love a good crop top.What three things would be on your rider?Oysters, salt and vinegar squares and a joint for afterwards.Biggest lie you were told as a kid?If you don't pray before you go to bed a dark figure is going to watch you outside your window (Malaysians love scaring their kids lol).And finally... What's next?I’m starting a cooking show to dismantle the idea that a plant based diet is elitist. White veganism doesn’t help with solving the environmental problems we are now faced by the factory farmed meat industry because of this ‘organic’, ‘expensive’ (and therefore classist) notion behind going plant based. Often shaming meat eaters but not giving a cheap solution to being meat free for people who can’t afford to shop at Whole Foods.  AND FINALLY...WHO IS YOUR NEXT BABYFACE GIRL SUGGESTION?Who: Stephanie Kevers
Why: Not only is she a beautiful (inside and out), talented and charming woman, she’s also such a brilliant set designer and runs an amazing club night called Heartbroken in Belgium. She fully encompasses the definition of a strong minded, multidisciplinary independent woman. 
Contact Soraya Jansen