Art for the sake of the heart

It’s all about show­ing the truth by evok­ing emo­tions.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - Opinion -

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 brush­with­di­ver­ 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.

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