Malaysian deaf artist promotes heritage buildings through art


Wong captures Malaysia’s architectural wonders through her paintings. Photos: Candice Singha Wong

Artist Candice Singha Wong is someone who treasures Malaysia’s diverse culture, heritage and traditions. In particular, the Kuala Lumpur-based artist, who was born deaf, harbours a deep appreciation for colonial and heritage buildings, finding them nostalgic and captivating.

“I am attracted to Chinese and Peranakan heritage buildings in historical places like Melaka, Penang and KL. I love how they are adorned with vibrant colours, ornate carvings and intricate designs.

‘I love how heritage buildings are adorned with vibrant colours, ornate carvings and intricate designs,’ says Wong. Photo: The Star/Sheela Chandran‘I love how heritage buildings are adorned with vibrant colours, ornate carvings and intricate designs,’ says Wong. Photo: The Star/Sheela Chandran

“I think these old buildings hold great significance. They show us what life was like in the past and tell us about our different cultures,” said Wong, 46, in an email interview from Hulu Kelang, Selangor.

Last year, the mother of one came up with her “Heritage Series”, comprising drawings of the country’s old buildings. She hopes to inspire Malaysians to appreciate these historic landmarks as integral parts of the nation’s identity and heritage.

“I love to paint Malaysia’s old buildings to show how special they are. I want people to see their beauty and remember their history,” explained Wong.

In the past 12 months, she has come up with 10 paintings of heritage buildings across Malaysia, including those in KL’s Chinatown, Taiping (Perak), and a few Baba Nyonya-inspired buildings in Penang and Melaka. Her watercolour drawings, each measuring 20cm x 30cm, beautifully capture the essence of their historic charm.

With meticulous attention to detail, she brings to life the intricate architecture of these cherished landmarks, preserving their beauty for generations to come.

'My hope is for greater understanding and opportunities for artists with disabilities,' says Wong. Photo: The Star/Sheela Chandran'My hope is for greater understanding and opportunities for artists with disabilities,' says Wong. Photo: The Star/Sheela Chandran

“I am drawn to Malaysia’s heritage buildings due to their architectural beauty, cultural significance and historical importance. I like to capture the intricate details and unique features of these buildings. I often take pictures of them and keep them in my phone. When I’m ready to start a new artwork, I look at these photos for ideas,” said Wong, who is of Chinese, Thai and Sri Lankan heritage.

In 2019, she created a Borneo series, highlighting Sarawak’s diverse cultural tapestry. Wong, who grew up in Kuching, created this series as an homage to her childhood, surrounded by people of diverse ethnicities.

“My father was in the military and he was posted to Kuching when I was a young girl. I had pleasant memories of Kuching and I grew up with friends from different communities including Iban, Kelabit and Bidayuh. My schoolmates accepted me despite my disability,” said Wong, adding that her family relocated to KL in 1989 after her father was transferred to the city.

Wong’s Borneo series highlights Sarawak’s diverse cultural tapestry.Wong’s Borneo series highlights Sarawak’s diverse cultural tapestry.

The Borneo series comprises seven paintings featuring Sarawak, including Indigenous folks like Dayak and Orang Ulu in their traditional costume, sape, and the hornbill, the state bird of Sarawak and the country’s national bird.

“Sarawak has many ethnic groups, each with their own customs and traditions. Growing up, I admired the carvings on many of their traditional houses, their clothing and dances. I want to highlight the beauty of Sarawak through the series,” said Wong, whose preferred works encompass landscapes, nature scenes, batik patterns and architectural renderings.

In addition, she also paints portraits of Indigenous people and traditional dances.

Sheer determination

Wong may be deaf, but she isn’t allowing her hearing impairment to stand in her way of success. She believes people with disabilities should leverage their strengths as catalysts for progress and advancement.

'We are all the same, whether we have disabilities or not,' says Wong. 'We are all the same, whether we have disabilities or not,' says Wong.

“We are all the same, whether we have disabilities or not. Everyone has things they’re good at and things they find harder (to do). It’s important to show what we’re good at, so people can see what disabled people can do and help them do well in their jobs,” she said.

Wong, who underwent an art course at SM Pendidikan Khas Vokasional Shah Alam, studied graphic design later at a private college in KL. She also received training in acrylic painting from esteemed local artist, Raja Azhar.

Wong's depiction of Thailand's long neck women. Wong's depiction of Thailand's long neck women.

Some of her artworks, primarily depicting landscapes, Indigenous dances and batik patterns, have graced a few exhibitions, including Deaf Art Expression, Liberation Through Art (2017), We & I Art Festival (2019), and The Gifted Art Exhibition (2020).

Her works have also been displayed at The Artists Corner Art Gallery at The Curve in Petaling Jaya, Selangor.

While she may have the talent and a fair amount of exposure, Wong admits that it is challenging to carve a name as an artist who is deaf, in Malaysia. She says that communication barriers pose significant challenges, making it hard to connect with customers.

“Due to my hearing problem, customers may not understand me, leading to misunderstandings,” she shared.

Wong’s handpainted images of Star Wars’ Darth Vader are among her best selling items.Wong’s handpainted images of Star Wars’ Darth Vader are among her best selling items.

To cope, she utilises written notes and sign language during client interactions.

To supplement her income, she participates in bazaars, selling her artwork, handicrafts and homemade cookies. She promotes her paintings on Instagram too.

“I balance my small home-based business with parenting duties. While my disability hinders a full-time art career, I strive to work hard to raise my son. My hope is for greater understanding and opportunities for artists with disabilities, enabling them to thrive and contribute meaningfully to society,” she concluded.


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