It’s Been Four Years Since…
‘It’s Been Four Years Since…’ marks a tumultuous yet stabilising period in the life of artist Cheng Yen Pheng. This aptly titled second solo exhibition reflects on and emphasizes a chapter in her life which has tested yet moulded her, and has consumed her in its totality, to the distraction of practice (Her last exhibition, ’Pricked’, was in 2012). On a trail-blazing path as one of the country’s most provocative and brave contemporary voices, Cheng Yen Pheng left a mark on the local art scene, when, as a finalist in the National Art Gallery’s Bakat Muda (Young Contemporary) 2014 competition, she stood up for her work entitled ABU, which courted some controversy and was censored from being shown during the final exhibition. Her outspoken, honest, and determined approach towards her life, is mirrored in her art journey.
This body of work is personal. It is her life laid bare. Through it she composes her own museum of life, looking upon the act of creating as a way of assembling, materializing and conserving life’s experiences. The artist places herself as a storyteller, as she connects the dots between different events encountered and major life-changing decisions settled throughout the past four years. Echoing distinct themes ranging from femininity, maternity, motherhood, life and death, to her transition from the city to the “kampong” life, this dynamic body of work moves beyond expression, as it also serves as the artist’s realization of her inner metamorphosis, while unfolding the joy and struggle as an individual, but also a woman, mother, and artist.
To Cheng Yen Pheng, at a certain point in life, it is inevitable for human beings to be intrigued by questions surrounding sexuality, which often contest our status, roles, and limitations as either man or woman – as categorised by society. In her hanging clothes installation, the artist reveals a reality often considered as taboo; the phase of discovering our own anatomical transformation, and the curiosity towards what the body is capable of. Hand-shaped outlines are stitched onto shorts, t- shirts and singlets, under attire commonly worn by young adults during their age of transition – a stage between youth and adulthood, between pure innocence and maturity. The hands are placed where the body’s intimate parts would be covered by the fabric, as if pointing out the notion of desire. Cheng Yen Pheng chooses to overlap the boy and girl singlets, so as to underline the blurriness of gender. The pressure for every individual to be gender consistent (having characteristics that are consistent with one’s biological sex), is also expressed through paintings of papaya flowers; while the male flowers are always unisexual, the female flowers present bisexual characteristics, and both genders are able to transform sexes.
The artist’s focus evolved from femininity to motherhood as she entered the phase of maternity, followed by the birth of her first child. A pair of paintings that exposes the pregnant woman’s body dramatizes the state of being physically full; this feeling of ‘fullness’ is juxtaposed directly against the feeling of “emptiness”, after she had delivered her baby. A feeling she holds especially close to her heart, now that her body has returned to its pre-pregnant state. The birth – a life and near death experience for both the mother and her child – is depicted through visuals of skulls and vertebrate collaged into a form comparable to that of womb yet a blooming flower at once, symbolising the life-giving nature of a woman.
As a mother, Cheng Yen Pheng leans towards nature in offering the best quality of life and life-long learning opportunities for both her child and herself. Having the courage to leave the big city and taking the risk to move to a village with just her daughter, she figured that so much can be learnt by imitating the self-sufficient way of life that the local villagers uphold. On rice paper, the artist stitched illustrations that were mainly inspired by painter Jean-François Millet’s observation of French villages in the late nineteenth century, which interestingly echo the present-day situation in Malaysian villages. Fascinated by nature that surrounds her current living environment, the artist attentively wove wheat roots onto the rice paper.
The installation composed of cuts of sandpaper joined by stitching seems to conclude Cheng Yen Pheng’s four years of a critical journey. It mirrors her ideology of problem solving, by combining multiple solutions in order to come up with a complete story that is ideal to her eyes. The choice of sandpaper as material represents “the importance of softening the stiff and sharpening the weak”; no matter how unpredictable it gets, one must be supple in choosing alternative paths in life, and shall constantly progress. A large-scale origami paper sculpture folded into a dinosaur, embodies the opposing ways she perceives her daughter; a precious creature, yet a challenging one at the same time.
Altogether, ‘It’s Been Four Years Since…’ challenges the romantic conception of a perfect life that seems to dominate our society, through an honest point of view of the life of a woman, a daughter, a mother an artist. A life laid bare.
‘It’s Been Four Years Since …’ is featured at Wei-Ling Contemporary from 29th November 2018 to 6th January 2019.
Wei-Ling Contemporary is located at RT01 Sixth Floor, The Gardens Mall, 59200, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Admission hours are Tuesday-Sunday 11am-7pm.
Please call +60322828323/ +60322601106 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.