How a Celine Dion song kept artist CC Kua sane during her extended lockdown residency


  • Culture
  • Friday, 31 Jul 2020

Kua's 'It's Time To Go Home' (gouache on paper, 2020), which details her residency programme extended stay at Rimbun Dahan during the movement control order (MCO). Photos: CC Kua

What happens when you are away on an artist residency and a pandemic strikes?

In CC Kua’s case, the implementation of the movement control order (MCO) in March meant three things: her residency at Rimbun Dahan, which was supposed to end in early April, was extended by a month; she spent several weeks at the garden-like residency grounds on her own (the other artists left before MCO started); and she sang (Celine Dion's) All By Myself every day – which ended up being the title of her current solo exhibition at The Back Room in Kuala Lumpur.

“I felt like a spiritual practitioner living in a deep mountain. I also felt like Chuck Noland from Cast Away, although I had Internet, paint, brushes, and was able to get my groceries. With the time, space and nature there, I took time to daydream," recalls Kua in recent interview.

"Since I had no visits from friends or family after the implementation of the MCO, I relied on my own memories and imagined a lot. I guess, artists are well-equipped to build playgrounds for themselves, ” she adds.

Kua describes the mood of All By Myself as “organic, windy, energetic and sunny”, a reflection of many of the days during her residency in Rimbun Dahan. Those who saw her exhibition last year, Left A Bit, Right A Bit, Up A Bit, Down A Bit, would notice that All By Myself is more buoyant, a little brighter and more cheery.

'I guess, artists are well-equipped to build playgrounds for themselves, ' says CC Kua, describing her alone time at Rimbun Dahan.'I guess, artists are well-equipped to build playgrounds for themselves, ' says CC Kua, describing her alone time at Rimbun Dahan.

“I think what makes this show different from my last show is the colours used. They are more vibrant, as it was mostly sunny at Rimbun Dahan. Sometimes I had to squint my eyes when looking out of my studio, as the greens under the sun makes me see yellow! I believe nature has nurtured me in a secretive way and I guess my strokes are more expressive than before, ” says Kua.

During her residency, she armed herself with a sketchbook and jotted down all thoughts, ideas and drawings that came to mind. There was plenty of time and space for inspiration and reflection.

“I was alone but not lonely. The solitude allowed me to really look back and question my art making. Sometimes I contemplated and sometimes I was just having fun, immersing myself in the world of brushstrokes, colours and lines, ” she muses.

'Do You Like My Straight Hair' (oil on canvas, 2020).'Do You Like My Straight Hair' (oil on canvas, 2020).

This was also the first time she had a studio to call her own. With this big space, she challenged herself to create bigger pieces of work – like Windy Solero Afternoon, which is a 164cm x 112cm oil on canvas work.

She also explored papier mache and paper-making, with leaves, grass and flowers.

Two papier mache collage works are featured in All By Myself.

“Although the logical part of me knows that I was an artist-in-residence at Rimbun Dahan, I think I was just living as a ‘human’ there, not an ‘artist’. In a place like that, you don’t really think or care about what is ‘contemporary art’. I was filled with joy and the urge to create was very natural. I felt like it was a holiday with paintbrushes, colours, canvas and paper, and I certainly enjoyed it, ” she says.

'Night Fragrance' (watercolour on canvas, 2020).'Night Fragrance' (watercolour on canvas, 2020).

All By Myself is curated by Sharmin Parameswaran, who comments that Kua’s art looks at the world with a spontaneity of senses – through her observations, her experiences of an environment or a situation, and how these unadulterated feelings and thoughts were captured humorously onto her visual medium of choice.

“In All By Myself, she found relationships with the world around her, from interacting with the animals and insects that visited her studio, to making 'friends' with her dinner plates, and wondering who else was around her in the still of the night. This got me to think about, who defines loneliness, the people around us, or ourselves?” concludes Sharmin.

Kua has also added something unique to accompany the exhibition: a zine publication titled Hello How Have You Been?, which is available digitally and in hard copy. The zine contains a compilation of other artworks and thoughts from Kua’s residency, and was made possible with the support of the Cendana Create Now Funding Programme 2020.

All By Myself is on at The Back Room, Zhongshan Building, 80A Jalan Rotan, off Jalan Kampung Attap in Kuala Lumpur till Aug 9. Opening hours: noon-7pm (Tuesday-Friday), 11am-7pm (Saturday), 11am-6pm (Sunday). More info here.

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