“We often force ourselves to say all is fine. There is always an urge to hide. When I think of it, why be ashamed? It is time I wear my heart on my sleeve.”

~ Ivan Lam

Malaysian contemporary artist Ivan Lam presents ‘catharsis’ – his most personal and important series to date. Consisting of five large-panelled paintings, ‘catharsis’ encapsulates Lam’s years of experiencing, understanding and accepting the depths of excruciating physical pain.

Dealing with debilitating health matters throughout his life, Lam felt the only way to “end” his suffering was to embrace it wholly. Each painting presents an almost scientifically-precise anatomical drawing of a body part which has tormented him in the past: the skull, the inner ear , the pelvis, the skin, and the heart. His personal library is filled with art literature, and is rivaled only by books on human biology-the latter from which he scoured for his research. From colour codings of nerve systems, to the latin names of various organs, the visuals in this new series bring a familiar feeling, as it mimics the aesthetics of scientific anatomy illustrations, albeit with  a twist.

The drawings come into play with the eloquent strokes of pastel crayons; a never-before-used material in Lam’s nearly three decades of practice. A deliberate choice of material which transports him back to his enfance; something he has always been tempted, yet hesitant to explore because it catapults  hun back to a harrowing past. Unable to afford crayons due to his family’s limited finances, Lam was left to his own tools – sticks and leaves – to create marks on the ground. He has not looked back since. Reminding us of gratitude, the artist commiserates, “The heart has no crayon. You couldn’t stain your past, be angry at the situation. It was still the best thing that could have happened.”

Despite the sombre theme, nuances of pastel colours combined with Lam’s signature resin coat gives an inspiring aura: a duality the author is acutely aware of. To ‘lighten’ the mood, Ivan’s dry wit is perfectly injected via an electric switch added to each side, complete  with pertinent instructions which culminated into the piece’s title – Press here to time travel, Press here to teleport, Press here to appear, Press here to disappear, and Press here to reappear.

As a way of identifying the sources of pain of each body part, Lam placed donut-shaped moulds, (cast in resin and painted scrapes from his artist palette), onto the exact locations where pain was unbearable. This act of “paint-pointing” as he labelled was a meditative process of self-awareness. It was perhaps through this gesture that Lam’s true revelation arose, resonating with the legendary Mexican painter Frida Kahlo’s words, “At the end of the day, we can endure much more than we can think.” Much like her, it was also through agony Lam realised the true meaning and cathartic quality of painting.

This series is particularly meaningful to the artist,as it brings him full circle to the lightboxes with which he launched his first solo exhibition in Malaysia in 1999. It has taken him 23 years to return to this medium-which was in itself ahead of its time. He encapsulates the series with this quote; “To seek the clarity of the past, so that I can be ready for the future, while working in the present.”

catharsis‘ is featured at Wei-Ling Contemporary from 1st March – 16th April 2022.

Wei-Ling Contemporary is located at 2nd Floor, Wei-Ling Gallery Annexe, No 8, Jalan Scott, Brickfields, 50470 Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Admission hours are Tuesday – Friday 10am – 6pm, Saturday 10am – 5pm.

Exhibition is open by appointment only. For appointments and further assistance, please contact +60322601106 or e-mail

About Ivan Lam

Ivan Lam (B. 1975) has earned a reputation as one of Malaysia’s leading contemporary artists for his continuous ability to push the boundaries of his art practice. Unafraid to take risks and never content to lean on the familiar, he is constantly posing himself new challenges through experimentation with techniques and mediums, taking his art practice to the next level. In so doing he has evolved into an artist of critical acclaim who is answerable only to himself, consistently striving towards conceiving and actualizing new concepts and ideas.

Ivan Lam has been recognized for his achievements and has been collected by reputed institutions in Malaysia, Europe and the USA. He was the first and only Malaysian artist selected to present a one-man project at the inaugural Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013, and was the first Malaysian artist commissioned by Louis Vuitton for their collection in 2014. He was one of four Malaysian artists to represent Malaysia at the country’s first ever National Pavilion at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia in 2019.