Wednesday, December 12, 2007, 10.53 PM

NST Online » Features


Klang Valley Streets:

People power in art



OH, WOMAN: The stylised female form capturing the rhythm of life

is the subject of Chee Ling's oils.

A husband-and-wife pair of artists from Penang will exhibit their latest works next month. GURUCHATHRAM LEDCHUMANAN gets a preview.



WHAT started out as two teenagers stealing glances at each other in a Penang sundry shop in 1965 blossomed into a tale of lifelong love and beauty.


Her father had a store in town and I would go in every day to see her,” recalls artist Yeong Seak Ling. “You can’t chase me out! I’m a customer!”


The shop girl, Yuen Chee Ling, would become his wife of 20 years and an internationally renowned artistic equal.

They will jointly exhibit their recent works at the newly launched Art Salon @ SENI Mont Kiara from Dec 1 to Jan 8, 2008.


Art Salon @ SENI Mont Kiara was opened on Dec 1 and is said to be the first art gallery housed in a premium residential development.


Gallery owner Spencer Wing said: “We were based in Jalan Telawi Dua (Bangsar Baru) and were the first art gallery there. Our aim, then and now, was and is to provide a venue where artists and art lovers can come together to view works.”


HIS NICHE: Seak Ling uses his art to convey the dignity of everyday life.

PEOPLE FIRST: It is the ordinary folk, the farmer, the fisherman, and their families, who capture Yeong Seak Ling's imagination.

Seak Ling’s work was first exhibited there in 1998. “But being meticulous, he’d take a lot of time perfecting his creations. We were selling his paintings faster than he could paint them!” said Wing.

Looking at Yeong’s brightly coloured tapestry, it is easy to see where all the The Malaysia Sky series depicts Kelantan fishermen pushing a boat to sea. Their brown, sun-baked muscles taut, you can feel almost every grain of sand under their feet.

Seak Ling is an artist of the people. He is never far from the often unseen source of this country’s prosperity.

Once I was in a kampung market and I saw a mother with her baby. She was selling vegetables. I came close to them and took some photos. The woman became upset and started chasing me with a stick! After all the running, I explained that I was an artist and showed her some of my work. I offered her some money to pose and not chase me and, thankfully, she agreed,” mused Seak Ling.

Much like Mexican muralist Diego Rivera, Seak Ling uses his art to convey the dignity of everyday life.

He paints fishermen, padi farmers and their babies in sarung cots. His depiction of the Malaysian rakyat describes their search for purpose amidst the toil.

During the 19th century, world-class masters like Monet spent a lot of time painting what was around them,” explained Seak Ling.

Having been inspired by the best, Seak Ling now stands among them.

His work was reproduced in a 2007 diary by a UK-based museum organisation to fund the development of the International Council of Museums, an organisation dedicated to museum development and preserving world cultural heritage.

Seak Ling’s Kampung Life series 2004 is featured together with works by European masters like Bruegel, Manet and Gauguin.

Yeong’s wife Chee Ling started oil painting at 13 and would ask the employees of her father’s sundry shop and sauce factory to pose for her. She received a government scholarship to study creative art at Universiti Sains Malaysia, and later took a master’s degree at the University of the Philippines.

Three months after arriving in the Philippines, opposition leader Senator Benigno Aquino was assassinated, sparking widespread protests against the Ferdinand Marcos dictatorship.

I saw demonstrators in the streets holding placards with lines from Malaysian poet Cecil Rajendra. People sang protest songs accompanied by guitars. There, anguish and discontentment were expressed through art forms,” said Chee Ling in her 2000 book, Paintings, Portraiture and Sketches (1966-1999).

Her exhibition is filled with oval-faced women with elongated limbs. But unlike Picasso who often violently distorted his women, Chee Ling’s long-limbed women’s arms are functional, used to raise children and crops, with no male in sight.

Chee Ling is the Frida Kahlo (the 20th century Mexican artist) to her husband’s Diego Rivera. And like Frida, Chee Ling embraces a heritage of mixed cultures. Her paintings celebrate Malaysia’s cross-cultural identity.

I started the native ideal from the pan-Asian ideal of oval-shaped faces and also the Indian beauty with her unique eyes and long nose. The cherry blossom lips are part of the Chinese aesthetic,” explained Chee Ling.

The women are in modified sarongs and they’re moving in rhythm. I wanted to portray the expression of native women because women are the rhythm of life. Their elongated hands do their work gracefully with an inner beauty.”

Chee Ling now helps others find their own beauty through the Conservatory of Fine Arts in Penang, which she founded, and the International Women Artists Council.

She is currently organising an exhibition featuring 140 artists from 20 countries to be held in April in Beijing as part of the Olympic celebrations.


Art Salon @ SENI is located at SENI Gallery, Mont’ Kiara, Kuala Lumpur. It opens daily from 10am to 6pm. For more information, call 03-6203-1919, e-mail or or visit or