Every month, we feature an artwork from Penang State Art Gallery’s permanent collection.
By Eryn Cheng
‘I was looking for my self-worth, you see. I wanted to be more than simply a family woman, taking care of children, cooking and gardening. I wondered how could I “find” myself. I turned to art, naturally.’
Sylvia Lee Goh started painting earnestly in the 70s. As a self-taught artist, she looked to her Peranakan heritage, her love of gardens and nature, and her own experience as a Nyonya woman as subject matter for her paintings. As of 2015, Lee Goh has taken part in over 60 exhibitions locally and abroad, cementing her status as an established and well-recognized female artist in Malaysia.
Serendipity (1994) is part of Lee Goh’s Secret Garden series and depicts two Kebaya-clad women admiring a cluster of heliconia flowers in a garden filled with lush tropical greenery. Lee Goh’s passion for horticulture is apparent in the carefully rendered flowers, red ginger plants, and peace lilies. Both women seem to share a moment of contemplation as they admire the heliconia’s blooms. Lee Goh’s use of red in the heliconia and the women’s clothes creates a striking contrast against the foliage-filled background. The use of red also links the women and flowers together in timeless, elegant beauty.
Lee Goh says that her works are autobiographical in nature, stating ‘My work is me, all my feelings and emotions. I’m in every single one of them’. Her painterly strokes are reminiscent of a Post-Impressionist approach to painting and help to create a dreamlike effect, transporting the viewer into a time filled with nostalgia.
The Penang State Art Gallery is located at the Dewan Sri Pinang, Jalan Tun Syed Sheh Barakbah.
Eryn Cheng is an artist who works with drawing, painting and cut-outs on paper and wood to create surreal compositions on womanhood, life and the unknown.