Tatler speaks to YongL about his aspiration to create a food encyclopaedia of different local delicacies in their respective place of origin

Scrolling through YongL's work on Instagram, one can't help but stare in awe. Satay replaces traffic lights, a bag of teh terik spills over rocky terrain creating a waterfall made of tea, giant ice gem cookies dot a beach and a chunk of soft tofu blocks a busy intersection, resulting in a traffic jam.

Speaking to the artist himself, who prefers to be addressed simply as YongL, he explains that what he creates are 'foodscapes', the combination of food in its relevant landscape. With the exception of a few, he tells me he tries to match each dish with the place of origin, giving me the example of cendol in Penang.

Read on to find out more about YongL's journey as a digital artist. 

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Above Photo: YongL

When did you start producing digital art and why? 

I started producing digital art in high school. At the time, there were not many resources available. YouTube wasn’t as big as it is now, so artists had to rely heavily on reading tutorials on forums or Facebook pages. I started messing around with Photoshop back in 2011, more than 10 years ago. I taught myself how to make digital art throughout high school and university. During the process, I dabbled in videography, animation and other forms of creative production, but eventually settled on creating digital art.

Digital art is a faster way to create traditional art, which was the main reason I wanted to go digital. Back when I started, digital art was much less common due to the tools and skills needed. After I learned how to use photoshop, my Mum bought me a camera back in high school and I picked up photography. The digital art I create uses photography in a process called photo-manipulation, which opened up new possibilities for me.

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Where do you draw your inspiration for your art? 

I draw inspiration from the stories and places that surround me. I was born and raised in Malaysia, so starting from Malaysia was meaningful to me. Whenever I used to travel around Malaysia, there was something new I could experience in terms of the people I met or the food I tried. That is why most of the food in my art is Malaysian food—it is also something no one has ever done in the realm of digital art before. Many other studios focus on commercial digital imaging for global companies but I want to focus my work more on our local fare as it is what I grew up surrounded by.

What made you want to feature local dishes in your art? 

During MCO, we were unable to go out so I thought of combining old photos of landscapes with the food I was eating during the time. I posted a picture of nasi lemak as my first 'foodscape', and it blew up. There are not many artists featuring local dishes in their digital art— street food is often overlooked as it is easy to obtain. I want to feature these normal, everyday dishes and make them extraordinary.

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Tell me more about your ‘foodscapes’.

I want to combine food and the respective landscapes to create ‘foodscapes’. My ultimate goal is to feature every dish around Malaysia based on the location it is from, such as cendol in Penang, showcasing the diversity of Malaysian food. For now, I have around 50 different kinds of 'foodscapes'. Slowly but surely, I want to make an encyclopaedia of Malaysian food and the places they come from. 

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What are your hopes for the future? 

To expand the series and feature every single dish in Malaysia. Malaysia is a food haven, with an abundance of food to work with. Every place has a landmark and signature food. We hope to work with larger companies to create more digital art, and using these profits, we can create more 'foodscapes'. I will be launching 'foodscapes' as a series soon, in the future, perhaps it can be a creative tool people can use. 

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