She was in an abusive relationship for over two years but didn’t realise it. Even when her boyfriend was belittling and shaming her, scolding and harassing her, artist Jyi Wu stayed with him as she thought these were challenges all couples go through in a relationship.

“I also thought that maybe I was to blame … maybe I did something to anger or irritate him. I didn’t share my feelings or insecurities with anyone. Relationships are personal and I didn’t feel it was appropriate talking about my personal problems with anyone,” she shared.

Wu dealt with her feelings the only way she knew how – she started painting.

“It was the only way I felt comfortable expressing my pain and loneliness. It was a release. Although it didn’t change anything, I felt some relief,” recalls the 35-year-old who studied fashion design.

But when her boyfriend’s behaviour became more sinister – he’d lock her in his room overnight, follow her and track her whereabouts on her phone, harass her family, leave hundreds of messages on her mobile phone – Wu reached out to friends and family for help.

“They set me straight. They assured me that relationships are never supposed to be abusive and that what he was doing was emotional abuse. I’d never heard about emotional abuse before. My family and friends urged me to leave him but it wasn’t so easy. I decided to give him a second chance,” shares Wu.


Wu said painting was the only way she could express her pain. Photo: Muhamad Shahril Rosli/The Star.

But things didn’t improve. Instead, Wu couldn’t eat or sleep. She felt she was walking on eggshells all day, every day.

“Even when he wasn’t around, I felt afraid. What would he do? How would he react?” she shares.
Almost at breaking point, she called TINA, the Women’s Aid Organisation’s SMS helpline.

“I spoke to a counsellor who really helped me process my feelings. Until then, I’d kept all my fears and sorrow bottled up inside. The counsellor urged me to leave. I was afraid he would harass me or hurt my family but she assured me that I would be fine. She gave me the strength I needed. It was difficult to walk away just like that. But after some time, I realised that I didn’t want to live in fear. I left.”

It’s been a couple of years since she left and Wu has continued to use art as a way of expressing herself. She also teaches art.

Her exhibition Unseen: Not All Wounds Are Visible at the Sunway Velocity Mall in Cheras, Kuala Lumpur, opens on Friday and highlights the silent pain on emotional abuse. Her work highlights the harm that emotional abuse does to a person even though there aren’t visible bruises on the body.

“Not many people see emotional abuse as abuse because there are no physical scars. But there are wounds. The wounds are inside and they take longer to heal. Even now, I find it difficult to trust or get close to someone. The fear remains even though I’ve left. I hope that my work can shed some light on the pain of emotional abuse. And I want to tell women and men who are in abusive relationships that they have to be strong. It takes strength to leave but you must leave,” says Wu.

She will be showcasing over 30 artwork at the exhibition which is located on the 5th floor of the mall. The art pieces, done in watercolour and oil, are up for sale and 10% of proceeds will go to the Women’s Aid Organisation.Unseen: Not All Wounds Are Visible will be on till January 17 at the Commune (5th floor) in Sunway Velocity. For more information, call WAO at 03 79570636