Art for the sake of the heart
It’s all about showing the truth by evoking emotions.
MY mother graduated with a law degree, worked with the Government, Bank Negara and Suhakam ( Human Rights Commission of Malaysia), and officially retired more than two decades ago. As a pensioner ( silver fox, I believe she calls herself ), she has spent her free time doting on grandchildren, travelling to see the world – and painting.
Next week, she will exhibit some of her watercolours to the public and share a different side of herself.
Although it may seem unusual for a lawyer to segue into an artist, my mother’s story is not too far from my own. At nine years old I confidently declared to all that I would be a scientist. At 15 I narrowed it down to mathematician. The future was clear.
And now I’m a writer. I mean, I really am a writer. I write articles and scripts for drama and documentaries. I get paid for putting words down.
There is a logic to all this. I enjoyed writing as a child. Writing has many of the advantages that doing maths has. I can work from anywhere, at any time. I only need a pencil and enough paper to get going. And I’m only really limited by my imagination.
Only problem is, there’s no such thing as a “right answer” for writing.
You see, at school, as much as I enjoyed free composition, I favoured the sciences ( especially maths) because there was always a “right” answer. As long as you always gave the right answer, you would get credit for it.
My mother always tries to fix this perception I have, especially when we are debating the Federal Constitution or some aspect of the law. “It’s not always about black or white,” she says, “Sometimes the world is grey”.
But I have to say that this mind- set of “the right answer always exists” led me to much success as a teenager. It gave me a scholarship to join the university I wanted. And when I returned to Malaysia, I worked for MDC ( now called MDeC, Malaysia Digital Economy Corp) and did my small part to develop the Multimedia Super Corridor ( MSC).
Which then begs the question: How did I get to the point where I now officially identify my occupa- tion as “Writer”?
Funnily enough, it came about after seven years of working in technology. I started with the certainty that information technology could create greater productivity. However, the real challenge, as I found out, was negotiating with warm, fuzzy, unpredictable humans. Knowing the right answer to a technical problem was no longer a guarantee of success.
Every shortcoming I saw in every MSC project was not because the technology was over- ambitious but because the spirit was underwhelming. Sometimes it was a constraint of policy, other times it was a vigorous mindset of “no”. The solutions did not require hard logic, they needed soft interpersonal skills.
I find understanding people much harder than understanding maths. I have the confidence that if I work on a bit of maths, I will eventually get it, even if it takes years. But every time I think I’ve understood something about human nature, something happens that surprises me and I have to start again.
After six years of IT, I took three months off to backpack across the world. In my free time while waiting for trains and buses I started writing again. And I remembered, hey, I enjoy this.
So after I returned, when a friend offered the opportunity to work on a local TV drama, I jumped on it. And one thing led to another to another to another.
Why do I write? The glib answer I give is to make people laugh and cry. But the best way to do that is to show them “the truth”. ( It sounds so trite to write that, but it’s true!)
Ideally I use writing to leverage on my experience to learn something new about human nature, to understand that fallible, imperfect aspect of man that laid low so many great hopes and aspirations that I saw while working as an IT consultant.
There are certain themes that cropc up over and over again in my stories,s be it in dramas or documentaries.t Unsurprisingly, one is how illogicali decisions of the heart fight thet logical conclusions of the mind. ThereT are feelings I have about dilemmasd like this, and I try to invokei them through my work.
What does all this have to do with my mother? When I look at her paintings, I believe there is more beneath their surface too, that there are feelings that they evoke. When the subject is close family or friends, there is joy. And then other works convey different feelings. A painting of three girls sitting next to each other, looking bored, pocket money in hand, is simple. But when you read the title, VIP’s Visit, you look more carefully.
I may be completely wrong about this, but I think through her career as a lawyer and judge, my mother has seen the difference between what is legal and what is just. And I’ve seen how upset she gets when she sees injustice win out. I think perhaps painting is her way sometimes of coming to terms with the chaos in the world.
Or maybe she paints just because she enjoys it, and I’m reading too much into the whole thing. But one thing is for certain, I am grateful to see a different side of her in her art.
( You can see more of her work and that of other artists at brushwithdiversity.wixsite.com/ exhibition.) Logic is the antithesis of emotion but mathematician- turned- scriptwriter Dzof Azmi’s theory is that people need both to make sense of life’s vagaries and contradictions.