Art: A point of View
Sylvia Lee Goh's first solo exhibition, Two decades of Art 1978 - 1998, From The Heart will touch your heart. The artist has successfully elevated traditional Nyonya-Baba emblem to the pictorial world of fine art.
There are books written on the Nyonyas and Babas of the old British Straits Settlements of Penang, Singapore and Malacca. They are often tableaux depicting Nyonya-Baba culture presented by hotels and tourist agencies. Television Malaysia devotes a special slot for screening of theNyonya and Baba every week. But for the first time an art exhibition is devoting its main topic to Nyonya-Baba culture. This is a great moment of pride for every Nyonya and Baba - to be depicted on canvas and in great glory and grandeur.
The instant I set foot in the exhibition hall I knew this is no ordinary art exhibition. There were 40 paintings altogether, each one about 50" x 50" beautifully and appropriately framed. Each one a surprisingly delightful composition of vibrant colour and form emblazoned on canvas. I was fascinated by the aura of beauty that these paintings transported. I had just left the busy world outside with all its heat, garish sunligfht, snarling traffic and grim reality. The next hour I languished in this dreamlike fantasy realm.
Sylvia paints from the heart. Her main works portray he Peranakan ancestry. These include Nyonya Alter, Blue Bowl and Koay, Nyonya Koay (Koay Muih), Teh, Chye Koay and Ang Koo, Rambutans and Nyonya Tray. She does not stingy on paint but lavish it thick, so that her depiction of Kuih Talam and Kuih Lapis, for example, stand out deliciously real and inviting the viewer to "eat me". This is this first time an artist has given any high conceptual value to the humble kuih. Nyonya Kuih will never taste the same to me again after this.
Another aspect of Sylvia's paintings is the human form. Although she revels in the painting of Nyonyas, I notice a clear absence of Babas. Woman, Oh! Woman I, The Letter and Woman, Oh! Woman III - Camaraderie are about women in private communication and we see them through a fine film of mist. If Dreams Come True and The Red Sarong are among her works I like best. The first surrealist and mystical, the second romantic, sensuous and simply beautiful.
Landscape, this is another one of Sylvia's favourite subject. In her series,Here To-day, To-morrow Gone, she produces masterpieces done in Genting Highlands and Lake Cini. However, rather than going out in search of nature, Sylvia creates her own brand of nature within her own garden. According to Ooi Kok Chuen, "Sylvia Lee Goh's garden in Taman Seputeh, is a paradise itself" (NST, May 11 1998). With a profusion of Heliconias, Petunias, Lotuses, Keng Hua and Anthuriums, she has ready material from which draw inspirations. We see foliage and flowers in all her paintings, be it as foreground, as in The Light at the End or as background as in her Kuih Muih series. Her Secret Garden series show off beauty of her reputed idyllic sanctuary.
Sylvia uses colour passionately covering her forms with vibrant greens, and blues, yellows and reds. Red predominates. In her abstract Energy series, she dispenses her red in all its beautiful tints and hues, daubed with gentle strokes of yellow. The first time she attempted the abstract form was in 1994 when Petronas proposed the theme Energy in the annual exhibition of Malaysian Artists' Association (Persatuan Pelukis Malaysia), Sylvia's effort was so good that not only Petronas swiftly acquired it, but the stunning result also set the artist's fraternity to sit up and take a close look.
The Solo Exhibition is the culmination of 20 years of determination and hard drive backed up by genuine talent and strong passion for the canvas. In 1985, she joined the Art and Crafts Guild in Kuala Lumpur. In 986 she was invited to join the Persatuan Pelukis Malaysia. She had participated in 29 join exhibitions, two of which were organised by the National Art Gallery to Argentina and Indonesia. Beijing and Bangkok were other foreign venues.
How did she come about to have this solo exhibition? Yeah Jin Ling who was then the Chairman of the Programmes Panel of the National Art Gallery came visiting. As soon as he set his eyes on Sylvia's works, he remarked "What a body of works! Would you like an exhibition at the Creative Centre co-sponsored by the National Art Gallery?"
This set the wheels in motion and a lot of excitement was generated among people in the art circle in anticipating her first solo exhibition. Reflecting that enthusiasm, Ooi Kok Chuen's comment were "much awaited" first "by Sylvia Lee Goh with her private garden and Peranakan Intisme" (NST, February 1998).
The Exhibition was opened on Sunday 3 - 24 May 1998. It was officially launched by YB Dato Sabbaruddin Chik, Minister of Culture, Youth and Tourism of Malaysia.
Sylvia is a warm and friendly person with a wonderful sense of humour. I sat with her at the entrance of the exhibition hall and watched her greeting visitors. I learned that Sylvia has many friends and relatives in Penang. She has a cheerful and outgoing personality. One of her greatest trills in her life was having the Chief Minister of Penang, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon to officiate her exhibition in Penang.
Written by Marie Lim, Penang.