Have you seen the girl in the blue pinafore? She’s usually hanging out by the apartment blocks or in the alleys. Sometimes, you’ll find her “ghosting about” in derelict buildings.
Wherever she goes, the girl in the blue pinafore wears a most forlorn face. Hers is mood laced by an inherent sadness, a hidden gloom.
So, have you seen the girl in the blue pinafore?
Well, if you’re familiar with the works of medical-graduate-turned- artist Caryn Koh, you may very well have.
The schoolgirl in the all too familiar blue pinafore is part of the artist’s Sekolah series. The captivating character has appeared as illustrations in ink and pencil.
However, she is more well-known in her mural incarnations, gracing the walls of buildings in places like Bacalod City, the Philippines and Penang’s Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, for example.
The blue pinafore, as we look deeper, is a metaphor, arguably, about the limitations set upon us by others. The art is based on Koh’s own personal experiences or thoughts on social issues and current news that resonate with her.
For Koh, there is something deeply personal stirring in her works.
And this cannot be clearer in her first solo exhibition called As Deep As I Could Remember, As Far As I Could See, which is showing at KL’s Artemis Art gallery.
At the gallery, there is no shortage of new material from Koh, with 60 works and a single channel video entitled Right Here.
The exhibition, with all the works completed this year, sees Koh in prolific form, notably with one large triptych and five large standalone works as highlights, while several sets of smaller works complete the list.
“This collection is like a diary,” says Koh, 31, a fine arts graduate from KL’s Dasein Art Academy.
“The works in this exhibition is an exploration and my way of finding out why I’m so attached to this kind of symbols my way of drawing. And it has to do with my attachment with the past,” she adds.
Koh, who has been a member of KL-based art collective Titikmerah, has built a portfolio filled with group show appearances, mural work and installations. Her current works goes a step further in terms of engaging the past.
Interestingly, Koh is a qualified medical doctor who gave up a career in medicine to pursue her passion in art.
As Deep As I Could Remember, As Far As I Could See is a show layered with contemplative works.
It’s no secret that Koh’s childhood memories play a big role in informing this exhibition.
As the exhibition title suggests, the KL-born Koh digs deep into her past and seeks to find a closure of sorts.
The exhibition marks a transitional point in Koh’s career as an artist, analysing and coming to terms with her tumultuous school years.
“I was a very happy-go-lucky person when I was young, but, slowly, I became very introverted and sad during my high school years. There were some problems in the family that I had to endure,” recounts Koh.
A part of her wants to cling on to this past, but at the same time, she knows has to move on.
“When I was young, art was usually my escape, but I was constantly being told off and pulled back to what is ‘right’ and ‘practical’. I studied science and then did medicine later. There was always this ‘art isn’t going to make money, is it?’ background chatter. Finally, I’ve just given up on trying to retain that part of me,” she says.
At the moment, Koh is based in Swindon, a town in Wiltshire, in southern England. She is currently pursuing the full-time artist dream in her home studio there. Along with her husband, who is a doctor, she left KL last September.
“The road of practicing arts is still difficult,” she maintains.
However, art keeps this young artist going, and a solo show in KL was a good reason to be motivated.
A large chunk of the As Deep As I Could Remember, As Far As I Could See exhibition was done in England.
In the Fragments series of oil paintings (22cm x 17cm artworks), all 20 of them feature the blue pinafore.
“For the Fragments series, it’s all about the blue pinafore. There are repetitions of it but some are breaking apart. So it’s almost like wanting to detach from the past and to move forward.”
As the viewer progresses from one painting to another, you will realise the pinafore is gradually fraying and fragmenting. There is also a single white pinafore that speaks of total detachment.
Interestingly, in all of her larger pieces, it is the white pinafore that takes centrestage.
Her Armour painting shows the female subject holding the white pinafore by the sleeves and looking at it reflectively. Koh says it is a conversation about finally taking the pinafore off and letting go.
Koh’s video Right Here, a series of eight landscapes, with found sound and birdsong weaved into the atmospheric footage, was shot in England.
“There’s this place in Ulverston, a park behind a residential area. You won’t expect to find this park. It’s just there, this vast expanse of plant. It’s a place where I feel solace. I just feel very calm when I’m there,” says Koh.
“And I felt that it’s something that you cannot capture in a painting. So I decided to do a video. I want the viewer to really feel what I felt when I was there,” she adds, referring to Right Here.
The As Deep As I Could Remember, As Far As I Could See exhibition is put together by independent curator Minn Alaidin.
Minn also curated the gallery’s progressive-minded Primer For Language group exhibition last year, which featured Koh’s works.
Koh also participated in group shows like Futurama (2016), Unsung Heroines (2017) and Catharsis (2018).