Between duty and dreams: a life-affirming exhibition that heals the wounds


Megan's 'Red Fish' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo

There is a delicate beauty in Megan Wonowidjoyo’s artworks that belies a resilient spirit. Memory And Rebirth, her solo exhibition at Fergana Art in Kuala Lumpur, is a visual diary of her life, a presentation of the everyday mundane and dedicated commitment to ascribed roles encased in hopes and dreams.

Through the 24 digital artworks, an animation film, a short film and 23 GIFs in this exhibition, she offers a glimpse into the personal, hoping to spark conversation in her search for meaning and purpose.

“Drawn from my memories across a number of years, these artworks serve as a form of life-writing, which is very personal and intimate. I started these works when I was a homemaker and full-time mum many years ago. Although I studied very far, with a university degree in Singapore, after marriage, I felt everything I worked hard for in school had to be thrown away," says Megan in a recent interview.

"There are these expectations on women as a wife and mother passed down by tradition for thousands of years that are bigger and stronger than the recent advancement of education for all. This may not be the experience for every woman, but my days became entirely consumed with duties to serve my husband, my children and upkeep the house, with little room to pursue my own dreams. Although I loved my family very much, there was an underlying urgency and desperation: Beyond being a wife and mother, who am I? The drawings began as an urgent search to answer this question,” she adds.

Megan Wonowidjoyo's 'Moon Water' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan WonowidjoyoMegan Wonowidjoyo's 'Moon Water' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo

Megan notes that education, decent pay and work for all, is only a recent development due to feminism in the 20th century. There are certain expectations placed on a woman once she becomes a wife and mother that is passed down for generations and embedded by tradition that does not make it easy for a woman to live freely or equally.

“Often, tradition places the responsibilities of household chores and child-raising on the woman’s shoulders more than the men. The core belief of submission to your husband and serving your husband, relinquishes a lot of rights a woman has over her life. The duties of a wife and mother can therefore overwhelm a woman such that she will lose herself. She is a wife and mother, and only that,” she says.

Amid her homemaker’s pursuits, Megan poured heart and soul into art that featured the household items around her, her stoic and silent confidantes during this period.

Megan's solo exhibition 'Memory And Rebirth' aims to give a 'truth' portrayal of a woman's life through art as life-writing, portraying her inner-world and mindscape using home objects as sites of memory. Photo: Megan WonowidjoyoMegan's solo exhibition 'Memory And Rebirth' aims to give a 'truth' portrayal of a woman's life through art as life-writing, portraying her inner-world and mindscape using home objects as sites of memory. Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo

“It was hard to have deep conversations as my kids were very young, and I was mostly a listener to my then husband. So I felt safe to confide in these home objects through my personal memories,” she explains.

The result is a life laid bare, a window through art into the different aspects of her trials and tribulations.

But it is also a celebration of love, which triumphs over everything else.

“The most precious thing in life is love. The love you share in a marriage is quite different from a young puppy-love. While young love is carefree, love in a marriage is tested through different trials. As a mother, although there are a lot of sacrifices in raising, nurturing and teaching children, the love between a mother and child is one of the most beautiful things in the world.

'Teapot Dreams' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo'Teapot Dreams' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo

"Time is always ticking, and all too soon young children will be grown-up, so time spent with children is priceless. Memory And Rebirth is about that love and pain in family life. The degree you love someone, is also going to be the degree you can get hurt by that person or feel grieved when you lose that someone,” she says.

Memory And Rebirth is the first solo exhibition at Fergana Art that spotlights a female artist.

Megan is also the first artist with Fergana whose artwork will be turned into NFTs, and sold on NFT marketplace OpenSea.

“Because women in the past have been overshadowed and their contributions to history largely erased, therefore it is important for me to be able to speak freely and truthfully, and to actively contribute as much as I can to women’s voices in society today.

"Some of the things I try to say in my art are based on life experience accumulated over decades, which is hard to translate simply over text. I hope that through marrying different media in drawings, digital art, film, animation and GIFs, people can connect with my experience as a woman, wife and mother,” she says.

Today, Megan is a single mother (with two grown-up boys) and works as a lecturer in the faculty of cinematic arts at Multimedia University in Cyberjaya, Selangor. She was born in Indonesia and later raised in Singapore before moving and settling down in Kuala Lumpur.

“I am grateful that I have gained back the freedom to decide how I choose to live my life today. Spending time with my children still makes me happy, though they are grown up now. I do not take that for granted. If I could travel back in time, I would tell my younger self to love myself more. Women tend to be more giving, nurturing and self-sacrificing.

'Night Treasure' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo'Night Treasure' (digital art, printed on Ilford textured cotton rag). Photo: Megan Wonowidjoyo

"As a result of putting others before yourself, you might neglect your own needs. It is important to enjoy life. Set aside time every day to reward your hard work and maybe once a year go travelling with some friends to enjoy nature.

“Though this art is from my personal memories, it does not only belong to me because the personal memories are situated in a certain time and place, which contains certain codes and customs that form our collective history. Therefore, within the life of one woman in Memory And Rebirth, it also contains the cultural memory of Asian women in our society today,” she concludes.

There will be a curatorial presentation and discussion moderator by Jaafar Ismail, founder of Fergana Art, with Megan and writer/academician Roopesh Sitharan, on June 25 at 2.30pm at the gallery. This is a free public event.

Memory And Rebirth is on at Fergana Art at Publika in Kuala Lumpur till June 30. More info here.

Follow us on our official WhatsApp channel for breaking news alerts and key updates!
   

Next In Culture

Documentary captures the unifying power of Bach's music
Istanbul's century-old streetcar receives a makeover
Britain's Royal Mint launches coin for 80th anniversary of D-Day landings
Caleb Carr, military historian and author of 'The Alienist,' dies at 68
Weekend for the arts: UN Peacekeeping stories, 'Sacred Currents' exhibition
Cinderella: a feisty musical fairy tale with a cause
Bayangan joins forces with Sans Collective for music, media arts show at PJPAC
Malaysian artist's cultural tug-of-war with splintered identities
100 years of British royal photography goes on display in London
German author Jenny Erpenbeck wins International Booker Prize for tale of tangled love affair

Others Also Read