De­light­ful tusk

An artist finds in­spi­ra­tion in the plight of Sabah’s pygmy ele­phants.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - ART - By AN­DREW SIA star2@thes­

When the artist Chris­tine nalina Das was in Sabah, she met Lit­tle Joe, the sole sur­vivor from a herd of 14 Bor­neo pygmy ele­phants who died of poi­son­ing in the wild.

“When he first came out of the en­clo­sure, he wrapped his lit­tle trunk around my hand as if to say ‘hello’. I planted a kiss on his fore­head and then he played with my hair!” she re­calls.

“This per­sonal en­counter was just too sur­real and pre­cious. It’s hard to de­scribe in words. I got it all on video and I watch it pretty of­ten, I tear ev­ery time I watch it. he warms my heart. Lit­tle does he know how much he has made an im­pact on my life.”

Lit­tle Joe lives at the Lok Kawi wildlife park out­side Kota Kinabalu with help from the con­ser­va­tion team at the Bor­neo Con­ser­va­tion Trust. The artist’s en­counter with the young ele­phant moved her to do some­thing to help – through her paint­ings.

Das, 47, works with acrylic on can­vas, us­ing free-flow­ing lines and tex­tures to ex­press her in­ter­pre­ta­tions of trees, birds, and, of course, ele­phants.

She was born and ed­u­cated in Pe­nang is­land, where she trained in graphic de­sign. As a child, her artis­tic flair be­came ev­i­dent when she used to doo­dle un­der the din­ing ta­ble while ly­ing on the floor, learn­ing the hard way that doo­dling on walls had its con­se­quences.

Years on, this pas­sion trans­formed into a liveli­hood, as she tried her hand at book il­lus­tra­tions, dis­plays, mu­rals, graphic de­sign and an­i­ma­tion, be­fore be­com­ing a full-time vis­ual artist in 2007.

“When I at­tended the of­fi­cial launch of the Bor­neo Pygmy ele­phant Sanc­tu­ary ear­lier this year, I heard so many hard-hit­ting sto­ries about our wildlife. I re­alised that de­for­esta­tion had cut off the an­i­mals from their mi­gra­tory routes as well as food and wa­ter sources! It was so sad,” she re­flects.

“There are only 1,500 Bor­neo Pygmy ele­phants left. They are only found here and no where else in the world! Many are los­ing their for­est homes.”

As Das was then work­ing on her sec­ond solo ex­hi­bi­tion, she was in­spired to high­light their plight. her show, en­ti­tled Que Sera Sera, fea­tures 29 na­ture-themed paint­ings. Four paint­ings are sub­themed “Pickme ele­fund” (pygmy ele­phant) and 30% of the pro­ceeds from that will be do­nated to the Bor­neo Con­ser­va­tion Trust to­wards build­ing a Bor­neo Pygmy ele­phant Sanc­tu­ary in Kin­abatan­gan, Sabah. Part of the pro­ceeds from other works will also be do­nated to the fruit tree plant­ing pro­gramme for the wildlife cor­ri­dor there.

“I was happy and thank­ful to see Lit­tle Joe healthy and happy. Yet at the same time it’s sad that he will never have his fam­ily with him to see him grow up,” she says.

“I was also struck by the words of the Sabah Min­is­ter of Tourism, Datuk Ma­sidi Man­jun (dur­ing the sanc­tu­ary’s launch­ing cer­e­mony), about how funds and help are com­ing from peo­ple out- side the coun­try while Malaysians are slow to help. So that’s why I de­cided to do my part.”

On a hap­pier note, when Das stayed at the Mynes Re­sort (a wildlife cor­ri­dor part­ner) at Sukau along the Kin­abatan­gan river, the majesty of the rain­for­est and wildlife in­spired her art to blos­som.

“I felt, smelt, saw and touched na­ture in a way that I have never be­fore. I ex­pe­ri­enced na­ture with new and im­proved senses,” she re­calls.

“It was both very spir­i­tual and en­rich­ing. Many beau­ti­ful tex­tures, lines, shapes and colours caught my at­ten­tion. There was so much beauty and wis­dom there, I could only fall more deeply in love with na­ture.”

Af­ter re­turn­ing from Sabah, she re­newed her work on her na­turethemed col­lec­tion with new found pur­pose and zeal.

“It fur­ther af­firmed to me that na­ture was my muse in art.”

It took her al­most one year to com­plete the works for her lat­est show.

“I al­lowed my­self a sense of lib­er­a­tion when cre­at­ing th­ese paint­ings, al­low­ing my brush to flow freely, hence the show’s ti­tle Que Sera Sera, what­ever will be, will be,” shares Das.

As an artist, she feels that she has grown and gained much more con­fi­dence com­pared to her first solo ex­hi­bi­tion last year.

“I was so anx­ious then. now, I have more courage to ex­plore styles. I even dared to try painted mo­saics! I feel my lines are more re­fined and con­fi­dent. It may be very te­dious fine-line work, but I have en­joyed ev­ery bit of it.

“My colours are not as hot as last year .. it’s a lit­tle bit more toned down but they are still vi­brant and joy­ful. Also, I feel that I am not as rigid as I used to be be­fore. I be­lieve my fem­i­nin­ity can be seen through my new work. I like that!”

Que Sera Sera is on dis­play at Malaysian Tourism Cen­tre (MaTic), 109, Jalan Am­pang, Kuala Lumpur till Dec 29. Open­ing hours: 8.30am-6pm daily. The Bor­neo Con­ser­va­tion Trust will have a booth set up in the ex­hi­bi­tion hall to cre­ate aware­ness on the Bor­neo Wildlife Sanc­tu­ary. Chris­tine Das cur­rently works from her home stu­dio in Subang Jaya, Se­lan­gor and can be reached at chris­das@ or 012-380


Ele­phant in­spi­ra­tion: chris­tine das’s paint­ings in the Pickme ele­fund se­ries are on dis­play at maTic in Kuala Lumpur.

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