Ipoh girl finds a home and career as an artist in The Netherlands

'I paint what I feel and use different techniques. Every piece has a story,' says Megan. Photos: MEGAN LEE

When Megan Lee was growing up in Ipoh, Perak, she never envisioned that she would one day end up having a family and living 10,000km away in The Netherlands, let alone slowly making a name for herself as an artist!

But that’s exactly where destiny led her. Today, an artist and art teacher, Lee has settled down in the beautiful canal-ringed Dutch town of Delft, known for its hand-painted blue-and-white pottery and famous artist Johannes Vermeer. Married to a Dutchman, Lee has a 10-year-old daughter, Qi Maya.

Lee lives what she calls an ordinary life but is starting to create a niche for herself as an artist.

In January this year, Lee was represented by the Van Gogh Art Gallery in Madrid at the International Contemporary Paris Art Fair in Paris where she exhibited her Japanese Fan Dance series and Spring In Sapporo.

Lee’s Japanese Fan Dance (I) diptych is currently exhibiting at their gallery in Madrid.

At the end of this month (March), the Artio Gallery from Toronto, Canada, will represent her work at the Art Shopping Carrousel Du Louvre in Paris, France. Currently her paintings Still Sunset and Time Walking On Memories (I) are being exhibited at the Rossocinabro Contemporary Art Gallery in the heart of Rome, Italy.

“I work alone so there is a lot to do besides painting. I have to self-promote by creating social media content to create traffic. Last December, I received these three invitations from these established art galleries so it was incredible. It is all very exciting.”

Her calling to be an artist and art teacher came later in life, after Lee had already dabbled in other careers including being a flight stewardess and designer/businesswoman.

“Today, I am an artist based in the beautiful Delft,” says Lee, in an email interview. “However, I first started out as an air stewardess. After secondary school, some of my friends and I became air stewardesses and that was a wonderful learning experience for me as I got to travel to many places, including Japan which I never thought would have an impact on my art, but somehow did!

“Later, I held many positions working for corporate clients in Kuala Lumpur before I myself became an entrepreneur (designing, import and distribution), designing toiletry pouches and bags for International skincare companies based in Malaysia and local skincare companies.

In 2009, Lee made a tough decision to leave Malaysia and ventured to The Netherlands, when she found love.

Art was her therapy

Transitioning to The Netherlands wasn’t easy at first. Lee shared: “I couldn’t speak any Dutch and that was a big hurdle for me. Often I would feel discriminated against, or left out. At parties or gatherings, everyone would be speaking in Dutch amongst themselves regardless of whether I understood the conversations or not. That went on for the first four years and led to me losing my self identity. That was a major blow and I began slipping into depression.”

One of Lee's abstract works, Still SunsetOne of Lee's abstract works, Still Sunset

Lee missed her network of family and friends and her life back in Malaysia. It was during this time that she turned to art as a therapeutic solution. Lee said she began watching artists painting and followed lessons on YouTube to pick up ideas and techniques. By the end of December in 2018, she had painted more than a hundred art pieces and with encouragement from others, she decided to embark on her first exhibition, The Unknown Artist, in 2019 in The Hague.

“It was nerve-racking. However, on opening night, friends and family members from all over the country made an effort to be present. I was overwhelmed seeing them line-up with flowers and gifts to congratulate me. I sold 11 pieces during the two-week exhibition, and it was a big accomplishment for me. The acting Malaysian Ambassador based in The Hague at the time, and embassy representatives also visited my exhibition. It’s a memory I will always cherish,” Lee said.

Today, she dabbles in abstract, contemporary and mixed media art.

“I paint what I feel and use different techniques. Some are on-going collections like Paperboat And Me, Get Back On Track, Japanese Fan Dance, Untold and Noise Of Silence. Every piece has a story,” Lee shared, explaining that when you see her work, you get a glimpse of her journey from past to present.

“Many people have commented that my art is poetic and healing and I am very grateful to receive such compliments. I feel it is the highest achievement when someone says to me that my art speaks to them.”

Last year, Lee was invited as a guest speaker by the Malaysian Ambassador, Datuk Nadzirah Osmah, to her residence Rumah Malaysia for the annual Asean Ladies’ Circles coffee morning (ALC) which comprises spouses of ambassadors and diplomats, and female diplomats and staff members of the five Asean embassies based in The Hague – Malaysia, Indonesia, The Philippines, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.

“I was able to exhibit some of my latest paintings and shared about my art and journey from Malaysia to The Netherlands. It was an honour to be acknowledged that way by the Malaysian Ambassador,” Lee said, adding that Nadzirah also officiated at opening night for her East Meets West exhibition in The Hague last year.

Another piece titled, Chop Chop IIAnother piece titled, Chop Chop II

A very normal life

Things have been steadily looking up for Lee, who also conducts workshops for children and families, that combines art and making dumplings.

“Conducting workshops for kids and families is truly such a joy. Seeing their creations at the end of the workshop makes me feel so proud of them. They are equally surprised with their own creations each time!”

When she’s not working on her art or classes, Lee goes back to leading a very normal life, she said.

“A regular week for me revolves around not just painting, but also being a mum to my daughter. I have learnt how to juggle my work and life! We live in the city centre, and so each morning, Qi Maya and I cycle to school through the city and that’s such a beautiful way of starting my day!” she said, adding that these days she loves walking and cycling as the paths are safe and it’s a great way to reconnect with your environment.

Lee explains that Delft is more than 750 years old and is connected by many canals.

“We cycle up and down canals with our little Maltipoo in tow, passing by cafes and florists through the main square before reaching my daughter’s Montessori School. On my way back, I have a few pit stops, including the Delft Market Square, and either the supermarket or my favourite bakery to pick up some freshly baked croissants and breads.”

She does make it a point to cook a variety of dishes at home including rice and noodles, pasta, potatoes with meat, stew and dumplings.

“On Chinese New Year, I try and stick with tradition so Qi Maya and I make dumplings, and she has learnt to fold them beautifully. We bake peanut cookies, tong yuan, tapioca cookies and we decorate our house just like how my mum does in Ipoh every year. We celebrate the Mooncake Festival, too. My daughter looks forward to that each year.”

Lee admits that she dearly misses Malaysian food.

“Don’t all Malaysians who leave the country crave for the food? I miss my mum’s home cooked meals especially and the different varieties of certain foods that I can never get in The Netherlands. I usually crave for them until I make a trip back home!”

Lee and her family return to Ipoh to see her parents, almost every year.

“My husband and daughter love coming to Malaysia. They love the weather, food, shopping malls and most importantly my family in Ipoh who are very hospitable, loving and kind.”

Even though she has come so far, Lee admitted that even today her big challenge remains the language.

“Dutch is known for having too many grammar rules and even native speakers agree with this.

“I speak well but don’t think I can ever master the language ... but never say never!”

Lee said that today she is able to speak Dutch with her local friends, the teachers at school, and make appointments in Dutch.

“Basically it has become the primary language in my daily life. I speak English, Mandarin and Dutch with my daughter.

“As for the culture, I am blending in even though I still hold on strongly to my own culture. Meeting halfway, that is my principle. You can never forget your roots. I am grateful for my life here as The Netherlands is a very peaceful and beautiful country.”

For those who’d like to change careers later in life, Lee has this to say: “If you plan to venture into your own business, just do it but with a plan. Ensure that you have at least one year of savings to pay your bills in case your new venture doesn’t take off as quickly as you hope.

“Work hard and learn as much as you can to master it. Age should never be a reason to stop you from entering a new chapter in life. It is your life, so take charge and believe in yourself.”

For more on Megan Lee’s art, go to megansartworks.com or @megansartworks on Instagram.

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