An unseen yet certain hope
Artist Chng Seok Tin made the work, Symphony of Life, a set of eight paintings (pictured: Symphony of Life VIII) after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last year. (Images: Chng Seok Tin)
Artist Chng Seok Tin, 73, says she was unfazed when she learnt she had Stage 4 lung cancer early last year. It was not her first brush with death.
She had come close to losing her life 30 years ago, after she fell from a bus and had to undergo major surgery to treat a brain abscess. The prognosis was grim – doctors said she could die on the operation table or end up paralysed.
She survived, with 20 per cent sight, and spent a year coming to terms with her visual impairment before she returned to art making, and teaching at LASALLE College of the Arts.
She went on to receive the Cultural Medallion in 2005, the highest accolade in Singapore, which recognises individuals for their artistic excellence, as well as contribution and commitment to the arts.
Although the diagnosis of cancer did not rattle Chng, the side effects from the treatment, which included sores in her mouth and on her head, tortured her. She recalls a blighted moment when, subsumed by pain and alone at home, she found herself venting out loud.
Months later though, she was on the mend and back to making art – two series of paintings no less, which are part of her new solo exhibition, My Journey, at The Arts House.
Chng made the work, Celebration I-III (above) after she was diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer last year.
The exhibition is presented by Very Special Arts, a charitable organisation that seeks to raise awareness of the artistic talent and resilience of people with disabilities. The show features more than 50 works by Chng, made over five decades and ranging from prints to paintings and sculpture.
Her vision has, over the years, deteriorated to just 10 per cent in one eye and 5 per cent in another, but she is still able to make out light and shadows.
One of the new series, Celebration I-III (2018), is a set of three mixed-media works that uses colour to express her varied emotions of sorrow, anxiety, equanimity and hope as she battles cancer.
The other series, Symphony of Life (2018), is a set of eight works made from used canvases discarded by others. Each piece is slit across the surface and painted in colours of the rainbow, over a base of black or white, which symbolise piano keys.
On Symphony of Life, Chng explains in Mandarin: “I used canvases that others threw out and made a slit across each of them to represent how life is like for everyone – full of scars, hurts and sorrows. But one needs to find joy amidst all of it, to put the past behind them and move on.”
In her case, the outpouring of concern from friends, former students, old colleagues and even strangers after they heard about her illness through the news, gave her strength to press on with her treatment and find fresh impetus to make art.
Her desire is that the exhibition will similarly inspire and encourage others with disabilities, as well as those who are facing challenges. “I hope they will see beyond their disabilities and difficulties, and not give up trying.”
My Journey is open daily from 10am to 8pm, 15 to 21 January, at The Arts House, 1 Old Parliament Lane. Admission is free.