Art, compassion and healing

IMAGINE a life that revolves around two places – the home and the hospital. 

Imagine living a life that seems to consist of endless medical tests, scans and high-risk treatments that have slim chances of success.

Imagine a life with an illness that ravages a person's body every day with pain, exhaustion and weakness, an illness that will inevitably cut a life short.

Now imagine all of this happening to a young adult, teenager or a child – a child living with a terminal illness, who instead of running around and playing like others their age faces a life that's confined to a bed, either at the hospital or their home.

What that must do to a growing psyche is indeed very hard to imagine. But if there's anything I can appreciate, it's how small gestures of sincere kindness can bring a burst of light into the darkest of moments. Gestures such as personalised art

And I speak from my own experiences when I say that such art is indeed powerful in boosting the morale of someone facing a life-threatening or life-limiting illness, regardless of whether the recipient is a child, adolescent or adult

I once commissioned an artwork from up-and-coming Malaysian artist Tharshinaa Chandran as a birthday present for my late partner Keisha Petrus. The portrait Tharshinaa did of our two dogs was a real boost to Keisha's spirit in the last month of her life, with Keisha often asking me to bring it down from the wall so she could appreciate it more closely.

Tharshinaa introduced me to a friend, Kopi Soh, last week. Kopi Soh does personalised art to boost the spirits of children living with terminal illnesses.

I spoke to Kopi Soh recently for In Your Face, and I asked her how her ongoing work began two years ago.

"Initially I was affected by people committing suicide because of depression, so I wrote books to help them. Then I realised that I could not reach many people through books, so I decided, why not learn how to draw, so I could help them smile again," said Kopi Soh.

She explained that she began making art for children living with terminal illnesses like cancer when an Australian parent contacted her to do some art for her daughter who was stuck in a hospital, and from then more and more requests came as news of her efforts spread through word of mouth.

"As the requests kept coming in I kept drawing relentlessly. I worked in the morning, and then at night I drew until the early hours of the morning for the families. Parents of ill children were requesting art for their kids," added Kopi Soh.

She added that due to the high demand, both from within and outside Malaysia, other artists offered to help her fulfill the requests.

At this point, Kopi Soh explained to me why she chooses her volunteers carefully, along with the process of how the art is personalised.

"I am careful because I don't want people to exploit the people we draw for by using them to gain ‘likes" for their pages, or for publicity. I will chat with the family online to get to know the child's likes. And when I draw the art, I will send the child healing thoughts," said Kopi Soh.

She also explained why she works to get the artworks done as quickly as possible.

"I do it within the day of the request because time is of the essence. In two instances, the child passed away before the artwork was completed. Therefore, I often stay up nights to get it done as soon as possible," said Kopi Soh. 

She added that families have got back to her to share the positive effects the gifts have brought to their lives.

"For a family which has seen pain and is surrounded by illness day in, day out, the gift of art to show care helps," said Kopi Soh, who gets three to five requests every week from parents all over the world.

I then asked Kopi Soh the crunch question: Is it possible for anyone to do what she's doing, and if so, how can they go about doing it?

"Anyone can do it, but they have to start by being sincere in their desire to bring a smile to another person's face without any ulterior motive, such as to gain popularity, fame or money. This will keep you motivated when you are exhausted, especially if you've been working the whole day," she said.

She added that with this sincerity, anyone would be able to stay up all night to fulfil a request.

"If you have no passion or compassion for doing this, you won't be able to find the strength. If you have the heart and the will to do it, then do it. You don't need anything special. Do not let your ego or fear stop you. If people laugh because they think your art isn't good, let them laugh, " said Soh.

Kopi Soh can be contacted through her Facebook account.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

Tan Yi Liang

Tan Yi Liang believes that people have more positive power in their hands than they realise. He wants to prove this - and challenge readers by speaking to experts, and getting right "In Your Face".