The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.” – Marcel Proust

Wei-Ling Gallery is pleased to present ‘COLORED’, the sixth solo exhibition by Malaysian artist Sean Lean. Exploring themes of cultural heritage, personal identity, and societal perceptions, Lean’s latest body of work offers an examination of cross-cultural understanding. Lean’s practice, from his prior solo exhibitions ‘Motherland‘ (2015), ‘3‘ (2018), and ‘M2‘ (2020), has always been concerned with the personal idiosyncrasies and difficulties of splintered identities, as well as the conflict between Eastern principles and the appeal of Western popular culture.

Triptychs are used in ‘COLORED’, a purposeful decision that, while unrelated to his prior ‘3’ (2018) series, offered Lean a platform to discuss his current thematic investigation. Each piece is divided into thirds, which parallels Lean’s own process of assimilation, exploration and cultural identity, representing the forces forming Lean’s understanding of China by contrasting his abiding reverence for tradition with the falsehoods frequently portrayed in popular Western narratives. Lean draws on his paternal heritage as a point of reference, as well as on the differences between his father’s upbringing and his own, to negotiate the tug-of-war between the Chinese customs he inherited as a second-generation Chinese in Malaysia and the influences of Western culture.

The exhibition examines racial connotations in historical documents from the global West’s imperial trade with China, as well as viewing the world through “coloured lenses”. Rather than restricting his narrative to a one-sided standpoint, Lean offers multiple perspectives on how Western travellers perceived first contacts. Elijah Coleman Bridgman, Matteo Ricci, G.F. Davidson, George Ernest Morrison, and Sir George Staunton, among the early explorers whose texts appear in Lean’s artworks, were journalists, diplomats, and missionaries who participated in cultural exchanges from the 1500s to the 1800s. These stories shed light on the motivations that shaped foreign perceptions, strengthening Lean’s thesis of bias, discrimination and admiration.

Lean’s creative process relies heavily on his ongoing evolution in material selection. Applying automotive paint to aluminium sheets fashioned like Ming Dynasty (1368–1644) ceramics and producing a “faux-porcelain” surface allowed Lean to highlight the illusory quality of his design. This strategy departs from conventional approaches by honouring ancestry in a contemporary manner and reflecting Lean’s own inner fractured identity.

COLORED‘ is featured at Wei-Ling Gallery from 4 May – 1 June 2024.

Wei-Ling Gallery is located at 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


Born in 1981, Sean Lean unapologetically grapples with fragmented identities, East versus West, tradition versus popular culture. National history is explored with characteristic introspection and humour, carefully tracing regional socio-political and religious tensions.

Dissecting identity, history, and ways of being forms a thread running through his work. He has similarly examined what it means to be Chinese, questioning its criteria as it shifts and dilutes through the generations. Lean continues this narrative albeit with a guiltless sense of play in these recent times. More experimental and metaphorical, he plays with colour and materiality using steel and unexpected palettes, all while tying his subject matter back to his disparate cultural upbringing. In his process, the artist leans toward ‘industrial’ methods akin to techniques used in automotive painting. This is a deliberate statement in favour of exploring the use of ‘mechanised’ methods more reflective of our present time.

In 2018, he was one of six artists commissioned internationally for the project Rare Stripesa garment collection inspired by true stories of the wild tiger. His Kamrita, its three pairs of paw prints in different colours, conveys beautifully the Himalayan tigress with her two cubs padding silently through the forest. Kamrita endured for years as “WWF’s adopted tiger and a symbol of hope for her whole species”. Harper’s Bazaar also commissioned his special cover for Bazaar Art (2017).