Can something beautiful come out of something dark and hurtful?
In artist Chant Wong’s case, the answer is yes.
This Malaysian artist, who was born in the 1980s, has spent five years as a full-time artist.
Before that, she worked various jobs: as a primary school relief teacher, a hotel receptionist at a five-star hotel, and a personal assistant. She’s been a salesgirl, too – selling everything from lingerie and ladies apparel to wedding packages – and dabbled in marketing (interior design) and even sold cars. She has also been doing freelance work in graphic design for commercial leaflets and posters.
This self-taught artist says her name Chant is pronounced Shawn, and means psalm or song in French.
Artistry, though, is in her genes. Her family members, too, have that creative streak in them.
Wong says that her older brother could draw characters from Japanese manga back in high school, while her younger sister enjoyed painting. And her youngest sister was a talented ballerina.
That’s not all.
“My mother has lovely pristine vocals that sound like those of Teresa Teng – she can sing very well. She makes lovely crafts, too. She can’t paint but she adores visual art. In fact, since I was 10, my mother was the first person to challenge me to think outside the box, to be creative.
“As for my father, he always had an eye for photography. He took a lot of photos of us growing up. He could effortlessly write beautiful Chinese calligraphy as well.
“My mother only had six years of elementary education – she was forced to leave school due to poverty and gender discrimination – while my dad quit school in the Third Form,” adds Wong.
“When I first started working, I stopped painting for a few years,” she recalls.
“Then one day, while walking past an art materials shop, the many oil paintings there captured my attention. All of a sudden, I had an overwhelming urge to paint again.”
At that time, she had not done oil painting before.
“So, I got my first piece of canvas, some oil paints and brushes, and kickstarted my oil painting adventure!
“My very first oil painting, entitled Peace, is in my art series Kissed By Grace. I remember I finished my final brush stroke with tears – God knows why.
“My work, in both writing and visual art, is deeply connected to my personal life. I was told by some of my school teachers that I was an old soul,” says Wong, who hails from Seremban, Negri Sembilan.
“I’ve learned to count my blessings and embrace life as it is. I’ve learned to see the tormenting memories from the past as ashes that I believe God has turned into something beautiful. My God-given artistic talents and child-like faith give me the ability to filter the things that I have suffered in my life. It is part of my nature to illustrate the bittersweet despite the ugliness.”
Part of the pain from her past includes the time her father abandoned the family.
This “beauty from ashes” comes through in her artworks, although art (https://www.chantwong.com/just-be.html) isn’t her only creative pursuit. The others are calligraphy, mural painting, creative writing, composing songs, ballet, and making accessories (such as phone casings and handbags printed with some of her selected artworks).
“Nobody could tell I had a tragic past as I’m not the kind to showcase depressive works. Like everyone else, I have my moments of depression. Nevertheless, it’s still possible to stay true to my conviction of delivering my work with a sense of hope and delight.
“Life happens to every one of us. Unfortunately, some traumatic events can profoundly impact our passion for a lifetime, but that doesn’t mean I must portray hopelessness and darkness.
“Emotions are powerful – they either break or build one’s spirit. By grace, I’ve walked out of those dreadful episodes and I believe there’s so much to be thankful for … I’m beyond thankful that I can express myself in words and art.
“It breaks my heart to ponder the fact that some people out there don’t have a voice or are unable to really cry out for help. The paths of crippling fear and nightmares that I’ve tasted allow me to feel more for people, especially vulnerable children and abused women.
“I move forward, and I want everything I do to be sincerely heart-warming and inspiring, or at least, lovely to behold.”
And so, Wong says, whenever she is painting, what courses through her being are tenderness, thankfulness and tears.