Sunday, 15 December 2013

Art inspired by Sabah’s pygmy elephants

Elephant inspiration: Christine Das’s paintings in the 'Pickme Elefund' series are on display at MaTic in Kuala Lumpur.

Elephant inspiration: Christine Das’s paintings in the 'Pickme Elefund' series are on display at MaTic in Kuala Lumpur.

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

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.

This work 'New Heights' shows how the artist has allowed her brush to flow freely, hence the show¿s title Que Sera Sera, whatever will be, will be.

“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 sub-themed “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.

Christine Das with Lil' Joe, the only surviving Borneo pygmy elephant from the tragedy this year which killed the entire herd of 14 elephants, including its mother.
Das with Little Joe, the surviving Borneo pygmy elephant from a herd of 14 elephants who died mysteriously in Sabah.

“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 outside 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 nature-themed 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 or 012-380 8191.

Tags / Keywords: Lifestyle , elephants , art , environment , conservation , Christine Das


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