S.E.A. FOCUS (Booth A-05)

Cheng Yen Pheng –  It’s Been Four Years Since…

This body of work marks a tumultuous yet stabilising period in the life of Malaysian artist Cheng Yen Pheng. It reflects on and emphasizes a chapter in her life which has tested yet moulded her, and has consumed her in its totality. 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; in Malay, the word “abu” signifies “ash”, but it also stands for “Asal Bukan UMNO” which translates to “as long as not UMNO” (United Malays National Organisation) – the ruling political party. Her outspoken, honest, and determined approach towards her life is mirrored in her art journey.

This body of work is personal. 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.

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, her work 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, and an artist. A life laid bare.

16 – 19 January 2020

Booth Number:

S.E.A. Focus
Tent A – Galleries
Gillman Barracks
7 Lock Road, Singapore 108935

Opening Hours:
Thursday, 16 January 2020, 1pm – 7pm
Friday, 17 January 2020, 1pm – 10pm
Saturday, 18 January 2020, 12pm – 7pm
Sunday, 19 January 2020, 12pm – 6pm