The intricate lines and meticulous attention to detail in Cheong Kiet Cheng’s newest body of work at Wei-Ling Contemporary in Kuala Lumpur might fool you into thinking that a lot of careful planning went into its creation.
But the artist shrugs casually when asked about it, because the thought process, she divulges, could not be further from the truth.
“It flows like a river,” she says, “I simply let the pen lead me where it wants to go.”
This is her technique of meditative drawing that she has immersed herself in for the past year. It is an exercise in mindfulness and repetition, which she compares to the act of knitting or embroidery.
Step one: Free your mind of all distractions. Step two: Get to drawing.
The longer she draws, the deeper she settles into the zone where everything ceases to exist, except the next line in her bigger picture.
Is she led by instinct or inspiration? Perhaps the line is blurred here.
But if there is one thing that rings true to Cheong, it is that meditative activities such as her way of creating art is therapeutic in nature.
It also helps her learn to be more conscious of the little things that life offers.
As she is drawn into her work of ink and lines, of images and memories, and stories that stand the test of time, the world becomes silent and nothing else exists, if only for a moment.
The exhibition title, Dust And The Silence In The Sun, was inspired by a moment of clarity when she observed dust particles drifting in a bright beam of sunlight.
“I stared, mesmerised, at the beautiful sight before me. It was a quiet moment, a still moment.
“And suspended in that time and space, I was struck by the thought that I want for nothing more. This is enough. This is the beauty of living life in the present,” she says.
Dust And The Silence In The Sun is Cheong’s third solo exhibition with Wei-Ling Gallery.
While Sing To The Land Of My Heart (2015) and Behind Two Hills – The Chorus Of Life (2017) were dominated by the female figure and creatures big and small, Dust And The Silence In The Sun (2019) is a “quieter” take on self-reflection.
Cheong has swapped the colourful acrylic canvases of her earlier series to black ink for this body of work.
“I used to tell stories in a more direct fashion. My female figures symbolised naivety and innocence in a utopia filled with animals and nature. The stories were fantastical and marvelous. But with Dust And The Silence In The Sun, it is more spiritual and meditative.
“There is a sense of purity about it, and I hope that the viewer will be able to feel how it radiates positivity and inner peace. It is a series created from me allowing myself to go with the flow of the pen, letting it lead me down a path unknown,” she says.
It is still family and nature that takes centre stage in these works. Her two daughters are featured in a few drawings, like in Encounter Of The Islands I and II.
It is also an acknowledgement of the cycle of life and of a wonderful universe teeming with life.
For instance, Her Tree Of Life drawing, within which an endless number of creatures reside, hidden in the intricate lines and curves that make up the tree’s branches, trunk, leaves and roots, could very well be a nod to how the universe comprises different elements that co-exist. In this work, the tree plays host to everything living that is embedded within its embrace.
She was in Japan last year for the UOB-Fukuoka Asian Art Museum (FAAM) Artist Residency Programme and her experience there is captured in some of these intricate pieces, such as The Gods or Wild Flower, with the former based on a shrine and the latter an island so serene and quiet that she felt like she and her husband were the only people on it.
Origin is surely one of the most detailed works in this series, where she managed to pack in several gods and goddesses from Japanese mythology, inspired by her research and her stint in Japan. Among the figures featured in this work is the duo who is said to be the ones responsible for the creation of the islands of Japan.
When she isn’t working on her art, Cheong likes to read. A journey of self-reflection is often solitary, but it is by no means something you do in complete isolation. For her, a steady diet of books provides food for thought and offers new ideas.
“I like books on spirituality and religion, just as I enjoy reading about science and technology. We often ask questions about life: what is the universe, where do we come from, what is our purpose, where do we go when we die?
“Science provides answers to many so-called secrets of the universe. It can provide some answers about the reality we know, and meditation can give us a glimpse of the truth,” she says.
When it comes to life, Cheong ruminates on the never-ending race of keeping up with the Joneses.
“What do we want and when do we stop?” she poses a rhetorical question.
At the end of the day, everything comes at a price.
“It would do us good to reflect on how much of ourselves we are willing to give away, in our search for more.”
They say stop and smell the roses. Cheong’s version? Sit and contemplate on dust particles drifting in a sunbeam. And then, draw and draw some more.
Dust And The Silence In The Sun is on at Wei-Ling Contemporary (RT01, 6th floor, The Gardens Mall, KL) till Sept 22. Opening hours: 11am to 7pm (Tuesday to Sunday). Call 03-2282 8323 or visit weiling-gallery.com.