What is love? For Marisa Ridzuan Ng, it is riding the highs and lows with a smile. That come rain or shine, the journey will be made together, hand in hand, till the very end. Love is taking it as it comes, with a whole lot of patience and a smile.

“Love is sticking with it,” says Marisa, before adding, “Even when every spoonful of food you feed her has to come with an explanation why. It is when you put your own wants and needs and comfort aside for someone you care about.”

When her grandmother was diagnosed with late-stage cancer, it felt like the beginning of the end.

“I was devastated. We were told there was nothing that could be done, that we should just bring her home, keep her happy for whatever time she had left. It’s too late, they said. Too late to do anything else,” she shares.

Now, bad days means dealing with, among countless other things, her grandmother throwing some pretty impressive tantrums at the drop of a hat. “She would throw her walker aside, then squeeze her eyes shut and ignore everyone around her,” relates Ng, 40.

It’s almost like a petulant child trying to shut out the world closing in.

“It pains me, these days. I hate how this (cancer, dementia) is robbing her of her personality. It is taking over her, taking over the grandma I used to know. She’s just not there anymore.”

But Ng takes it in stride and the good days come just as unheralded. A brief reprieve, like the sun peeking through the clouds.

“My favourite part of our time together is when the three of us – grandma, my 12-year-old son Connor, and I – pile into bed and sing songs. Connor will be the joker, making her laugh with his attempts to learn Hokkien. These are the moments I really treasure, when she sings along without a care in the world,” she says.

“We laugh and have fun, we make more happy memories with what little time we have left. We don’t even know how much time that is,” she adds.

Raised by her grandparents, it seems only fitting that Ng’s third solo exhibition, ONG: It Came From A Place Of Love is held in conjunction with Mother’s Day on May 14. Her 30 abstract oil paintings each has a story of their own to tell.

ONG is a tribute to my grandmother, Ong Chiew Bee. Each painting tells a story of Ah Ma, who she is as a person, how she has made a difference in the lives of people around her, how she has loved me. It is a celebration of her life, a visual tapestry that documents my relationship with her and this journey we share,” she says.

ONG is also a platform to raise awareness on the importance of early detection of cancer.

“We took many things for granted. For instance, we assumed that her loss of appetite was a normal part of ageing when in fact it was a sign that something was wrong,” recalls Ng. “Besides that, I hope to get across the message that the elderly should not be seen as a burden, that we should enjoy and embrace their quirks.”

Curator Tan Sei Hon comments that abstract art takes it beyond realism to capture feelings and emotions. In reflecting perceptions and emotions, reality, at least in the way most are used to perceiving it, is distorted.

“In abstract art, each colour that we use to build up reality is taken out and given its own personal reading. That’s why abstract art is the way it is – it is freedom, pure freedom,” says Tan.

marisa ridzuan

Waste Not Want Not (oil, 2016). Photo: Puah Chin Kok

Abstraction, he explains, is not a mindless act of desecrating the surface of a canvas with paints, brushes or palette knives, where layer upon layer of colour are callously applied without reason or forethought.

Instead, abstraction is a “conscious, wilful act of rebellion in the visual arts to free the human spirit which had for too long been incarcerated in the body of representational art under the bondage of fossilised traditions inherited from the Renaissance”.

Tan, 42, muses that when he first saw Ng’s work for ONG, the first thing that struck him was the “psychological energy” emanating from it.

“We attribute specific feelings and emotions to different colours and lines. Here, the psychological weight of what the artist feels about the relationship between her grandmother and herself, is actually in the colours and strokes. I like the spontaneity that is evident in the paintings in this series,” he says.

Ng’s reaching out does not end with this exhibition. A coffee table book is in the works and she is looking for sponsors.

The sky’s the limit. After all, not many things can rally family and friends the way Ng is seeing now, but this exhibition, and the story behind this labour of love, did.

ONG: It Came From A Place Of Love is on at the Creative Space, National Visual Arts Gallery in Kuala Lumpur until May 21. Call 03-4026 7000/4990 or visit www.artgallery.gov.my for more information.