ROZANA Lee isn’t selling her work, or looking for critical acclaim – she only hopes Tsunami Hour will save lives.
The exhibition is based on her own tragic experience of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that killed hundreds of thousands of people including her mother when it struck Asia.
‘‘When there is a warning here in New Zealand people go to the beach and go swimming.
‘‘I think ‘ how stupid’, but I can understand because if I hadn’t had this experience I would also think ‘ oh it’s probably nothing’ as well.’’
The Epsom resident’s hometown is in Indonesia’s Aceh Province which is almost at the epicentre of the natural disaster.
She was in Singapore at the time living with her husband and two children.
Her father Karimun and brother Rudy who were still in Aceh survived, but her mother Rosna was killed.
Rosna, Rudy, and his wife Irene were at home when the 9.3 magnitude earthquake that caused the tidal wave started.
‘‘Nobody knew what was happening. It was an earthquake so they thought they should get outside.’’
Mrs Lee’s family stayed gathered in the street with their neighbours when the ground finally stopped shaking after 10 minutes.
A grey wall of water approached less than 30 minutes later.
‘‘People started shouting and then everyone started to run. They didn’t know what it was. You can’t outrun water, but it is human nature.’’
The family was heading to a Mosque 500 metres from its home that saved the lives of hundreds because it was on high ground.
Rosna, 63, couldn’t keep up so she and her son clung to a tree as the water rose.
‘‘My mum just said ‘let’s start praying’. Then the water got higher, their hands lost grip, and swept away.’’
Irene and Rudy caught another tree, but Rosna disappeared.
Mrs Lee’s father Karimun saw the disaster unfold from the beach.
‘‘He was with his friends and they saw this wave that was as high as the clouds. They didn’t know what it was, but luckily one was a fisherman and sensed something was wrong.’’
The group piled into a van and drove to safety.
The first Mrs Lee heard of the event was on the television news.
‘‘It was Boxing Day and we were all out shopping,’’ she says.
‘‘One of my brothers called and said there was an earthquake, and I thought ‘that’s normal’ – we have quite a lot of them there.
‘‘When we switched on the TV there was all this news about the tsunami, but no news about Aceh.’’
Mrs Lee reached Aceh three days later and searched for Rosna. Her mother is not recorded as one of the dead because no body ws found.
‘‘During the clean-up they used huge diggers to move the debris, there was no identification. Many people were just dumped into mass graves.
‘‘She might have been swept into the ocean, or she might be in one of those graves.
‘‘I always think maybe she was knocked unconscious and she can’t remember who she is, and maybe she is alive.’’
Mrs Lee hopes Tsunami Hour will help Aucklanders to take tsunami warnings more seriously.
‘‘My mother always believed if you can help people then you should.
‘‘If I can make people understand more through the exhibition I think she would be happy, at least she wouldn’t have died in vain.
‘‘In Aceh they didn’t know what it was. There was no warning.
‘‘If you understand what it is you have a much better chance of survival. Minutes matter,’’ she says.
Mrs Lee moved to New Zealand with her Kiwi husband three years ago.
She says the tsunami made her re-evaluate her life and was the catalyst for giving up a 15-year career in banking to paint full time.
‘‘I’d always liked painting and drawing, but in Asia people would say ‘ no, get a proper job’. Painting has helped me a lot.
‘‘These are my memories,’’ she says.