Women of grace and strength

Women of grace and strength

Sunday, 10 February 2013

Media Type
New Straits Times, Malaysia (Online)

An all-female ensemble comes together at Sutra Gallery, revealing works alluringly tinged with a sense of outre, writes Sarah NH Vogeler

Preet Badhwar, Deepika Gupta, Reena Kochar, Ardy Timmers-Cuypers and Shia Yih Yiing — five discrete personalities, backgrounds and approach to artistic pursuits — share a common passion, creating art.

All five make quite a striking group, having first met at Rasa, an art appreciation group initiated by Ardy Timmer in late 2010, which then culminated in Artea sessions at Shia’s domicile in Kepong. Preet, Deepika and Reena are from India, and Ardy from the Netherlands. Kuching-born Shia needs no introduction (2004’s wOm(b) at Galeri Petronas being particularly stirring) whose works are collected by the National Art Gallery and HSBC Malaysia to name a few.

Fuelled by an easy, natural rapport (immediately apparent by the interminable laughter and chatter) a friendship developed quickly and what followed is Elements 5. What they have learned from each other is right there, visible in every painting, in every sculpture. Through regular get-togethers and much research, the group established a shared stage to articulate their skills as artists, and like the five elements (the pancha-butas — fire/earth/air/water/ether of Indian metaphysic) Preet, Deepika, Reena, Ardy and Shia brought forth their distinctiveness and personalities in conveying their originality.

The setting itself is faultless as Sutra House is a sweeping vista of open space, a mystic sphere if you may, as Stephen Gardiner eloquently described as an “interior, which melts into the gardens of the outside world”. With its dance studio, art gallery, library, a 200-seat amphitheatre (Amphi-Sutra) and an open-door policy to artistic endeavours, Sutra House is unique, its loveliness deepening with time. Opened by Tunku Dara Tunku Tan Sri Naquiah, president of The Speakers Club, Elements 5 was complemented with two mesmeric performances by Sutra dancers.

“I feel that the 5 Elements (fire, earth, air, water, space) essentially connects with Rasa — or various emotional states and responses to stimuli. In the first dance, Oriya Abhinaya, I bring into play dancers of dissimilar body shapes, from the most voluptuous and slender to elfin-like. They conjure the women of Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings,” says Ramli Ibrahim, Sutra artistic director.

“The second dance, Chakravaka Pallavi is inspired by the images of the Temptation Of Buddha, portraying how four celestial maidens, sirens incarnate who seduced, incarcerated and consumed the poor sadhu, who did not stand a snowball’s chance in Hades pitted against these femme fatales . It’s a subtle hint to us men.”


Her foray into art began in early teenage years and this intrepid traveller has since made Malaysia a regular stop, with its wealth of subject matters, which fascinate. A native of New Delhi, Preet says: “Art is a way of life for me. I began with a style, which leaned towards the representational, gradually moving to abstracts as a means of self-expression. Artists such as Georgia O’Keefe, Anne Madden and Anjolie Menon have significantly inspired my creations. I live by Cavafy’s Ithaca, that my way be long, full of adventure, full of instruction as he said. It is the journey that is priceless to me.

“In the future, I hope to pursue more esoteric themes, ones with obscured, layered implications. I love being a part of this group, women of such talent and strength personified, supported and nurtured by a gallery, which pulsates with passion, and one, which encourages diverse artistic inclinations.”

Preet’s engaging Hibiscus series, bold in colour preference, incorporating dual aspects of abstraction and representation denote the life cycles of a beginning, middle and end. She explores arcane themes of growth in Emergence and Euphoria, capturing the power, and emotion of all three phases in her own inimitable style, forging her energetic technique in every painting.

“We too must unfold, and realise our personal potential and destiny,” says Preet.


“Ardy and I first met at the Kuala Lumpur’s Speaker’s Club, and a chance meeting one day turned to a whole day’s conversation about, what else but art. She invited me to a painting soiree with Dutch artist Irene Dousi, and that’s where I was introduced to Preet and Reena. The group was completed a little later when we visited Shia at her home,” says Deepika.

She divides her life into two halves — in northern India’s Allahabad, where she grew up, and in Malaysia, where she thrives. “It has been almost two decades living here, and through those I have befriended and made part of my extended family, all this can be seen in my art. Growing up, I officially ‘met’ my first television set in my teens, which was fortunate really, because most of my time was spent outdoors, discovering, dreaming and creating. I literally lived inside my head and not a single television set could have competed with that.”

3 Men And A Charpoy And Divinity Entwined is the artist’s response to an emotional state after a process of assimilating the experiences of both her physical and spiritual surroundings, of her motley roles as a woman, a wife, a mother.

The paintings are a glimpse into a time, a space, a soul, a delicate but acute observation of human values.

“My parents were enthusiastic about my every creative pursuit, be it dance, music, drama or art. Losing them was devastating and art proved to be the therapist.”

Allahabad is a personal favourite — it was a tribute to her father. Untold Stories was conceived from a film scene, Divinity Entwined a telling after time spent at a meditation retreat. These are stories, her stories. From every character comes beauty, tinged with a hint of solemnity at times.


She graduated with a Fine Arts Degree in Chennai, and the next decade and a half was dedicated to a career in design. Reena’s prevailing love for art brought her to artist A. V. Ilango, who helped nurture her talents, resulting in exhibitions in Chennai, Hyderabad and Bangalore.

“Strange as it sounds, my foray into art took root when my classmates made me do their homework. What was a chore for them turned out to be my calling.”

On her latest series, she says: “I’m captivated by the residing space behind a free standing form in sculpture, where the continuity of the flow of lines live, even if it’s not apparent to the naked eye. This series is inspired by the passage of life, of man’s physical journey as characterised by his evolutionary connection to nature. The seed, a fern’s uncurling spiral, leaves on a climbing vine — all indicate a continuous rebirth. My interpretation of man’s spiritual path is specified by the labyrinth pattern, a meditative path for a crossing to the centre of a more profound understanding of oneself.”


The most effervescent and spontaneous of the group, she moved to Indonesia with her family from her native Netherlands in 1997. This bohemian adventurer with a taste for the eclectic naturally gravitated to the arts, a talent she’s had since childhood. This led to Ardy facilitating an art appreciation group, which travelled extensively throughout Indonesia, visiting studios and galleries. In 2002, her family immigrated to Malaysia and Rasa was born.
“Images just sort of ‘pop’ into my head, inspired mostly by my daydreams, the environment I am in. I consider art as therapeutic and even now, with the exception of Shia, the four of us still work with our teacher Thai, exploring art in its various forms. It’s much more rewarding to do that together, the discussions, the wonderful camaraderie.

“I think our bond as artists and women has grown considerably, and I’d love to keep working with this group, and with Sutra Gallery if possible.”

Ardy’s latest investigation centres on the nude form, rendered in striking colours, Olympian-like figures of great vitality, imposing, proud, loud.

“Up till recently, I painted mostly women, in various shapes and forms. There is a certain elegance to them; strong and fragile, exquisite and tough, all at the same time. I chanced upon a callipygian drawing of the male form one day. It was intriguing and my experiments turned out better than I expected.

“For Elements 5, I have kept things simple, straightforward. Life can be bliss and not to be taken too seriously. I say dance, live, be free.”


She graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Arts and in 1998, a series of iconographic/arcadian family vignettes won her the Commonwealth Foundation Fellowship in Art & Craft.

Her 1999 sojourn in Australia instigated an extensive study in visual arts at the School of Contemporary Art, University of Western Sydney. Her fifth solo exhibition, Motherhood Games, held at The Art Gallery of the National Institute of Education, Singapore in 2008, continued her subtle interpretation of the ongoing concept of motherhood depicted in varying representations, from symbolic to nostalgic, private to universal, inspired by fables and art history.

We tend to inflict our own vagaries upon nature, said Virginia Woolf, and Shia’s Oh! Deer II and III series is a bittersweet, albeit piercing commentary on the Compassion vs Cruel paradox.

The Sang Kancil (mousedeer) sneers accusingly in one painting, dolefully imploring in the next. Shia’s delineations are brutal and humane, her wit deliciously biting, its meaning made even more vivid through subtle allegories, which has been her signature of late.

Concluding, Ramli adds: “Artistically, the artists here are different but they complement each other by just being themselves, reveling in their individuality. They’re very confident and seem to take delight in expressing this — some raw, some very sophisticated, but all are authentically themselves. To succeed, an artist must first possess technique; secondly as a creator, an artist must have an original point of view to provide authentic content and lastly, an artist (even a visual artist) must have that star quality coupled with a performer’s or creator’s mystique by which the work or statement connects immediately with the audience.”

Of existing entirely in the moment, creating out of love rather than from compulsion, need as opposed to want, these artists perhaps, described fittingly, best, by Emily Dickinson’s “Take all away from me, but leave me ecstasy, and I am richer than my fellow men”.

The article can be viewed here

Copyright © 2011 The New Straits Times Press (Malaysia) Berhad.

Source: New Straits Times, Malaysia (Online)