Ms Chng Seok Tin might be legally blind and living in darkness, but that has not stopped her from guiding those in need towards the light.
Born in 1946, Ms Chng is one of Singapore’s most revered and prominent artists. To date, she has held 30 solo exhibitions and has participated in more than 100 group exhibitions in Singapore and abroad. For her courage and contributions to the art scene, Ms Chng was awarded Her World Woman of the Year in 2001. In that year alone, she held at least four exhibitions, published a book, Rainbow Bridge, and even assisted with the running of an arts camp for the United Nations project in Thailand.
Her works spans across a wide range of media including printmaking, drawing, painting, collage, mixed media, textiles, photography, ceramic, sculpture and installation. She gets inspired by places she has been to, people she has met and things she read on the news. These days, she is particularly interested and inspired by environmental issues.
Her interest in art stemmed from her secondary school days when she was a student at Chung Cheng High School. She joined the Art Society and became the first theatrical make-up artist for the school’s drama. In 1970, while she was training to be a Chinese language teacher at Tanjong Katong Girls School, she decided to pursue her interest in the arts by embarking on a 15-year long immersion programme in art education that took her to the United Kingdom and United States.
THE DARK TIMES
In 1988, an unfortunate tragedy turned her life around. In 1988, while on a trip in London with students from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts she was teaching, she fell and hit her head while chasing after a bus. She started experiencing dizzy spells and went under the knife twice to remove an offending abscess in her brain. Things took a turn for the worst when she started losing her vision.
Ms Chng revealed that it was a very difficult time for her, she initially isolated herself, battling depression and suicidal thoughts as she started losing more and more of her sight. Thankfully, she didn’t allow herself to wallow in pity for long. With the help of those around her, she got back on her feet and took up a job as a printmaking teacher at the newly established Lasalle School of the Arts by sculptor Brother Joseph McNally, where she taught for six years.
YOU WIN SOME, YOU LOSE SOME
“When one door of happiness closes, another opens”, this is a quote that Ms Chng lives by. Even though she can only see a pattern of shadows, lights and bright colours, she continues to do what she loves by improvising. For instance, she would describe the colour and shade of paint she wants and her friends and hired assistants would help her get it. Ms Chng conceded that she had to compromise her perfectionism and in her words, “it is what it is”.
Ms Chng says that it was her blindness that opened her eyes to the plight of those in need, she says, “In life you win some and lose some, if I didn’t lose my vision, I wouldn’t have never been able to empathize and understand the struggles of the less fortunate and the disabled”. She hopes to not only inspire those in needs through her art but also weed out prejudice and eradicate the misconceived notion that the handicapped are lazy individuals. Ms Chng expressed that even though Singapore is a very warm society and giving society, there are some people who would still think that the disabled are lazy and reliant on government. Citing the example of her good friend, fellow artist, Johnny Ang, who paints to make a living even though he doesn’t have arms, Ms Chng says that the misconception is far from the truth.
FOR ATTRACTIVE LIPS, SPEAK WORDS OF KINDNESS
The altruistic artist teamed up with Raffles City to create a lipstick installation. Close to 4,500 lipsticks were collected from collection points set up in Raffles City Shopping Centre and CapitaLand office buildings. The installation was unveiled in a ceremony that took place at Raffles City Shopping Centre, during which CapitaLand Hope Foundation, the philanthropic arm of CapitaLand, donated $100,000 to Very Special Arts (VSA) Singapore that will go towards the refurbishing of two classrooms in VSA Bedok Centre.
46 vibrant-coloured flowers were handcrafted from treated aluminum foil and decorated with lipsticks that were donated from the public. Titled, “No Indecent Assault in Speech”, the artwork strives to send the message of “doing good deeds, speaking kind words and harbouring good thoughts”. To convey this message, Ms Chng designed three lip shaped sofas with Chinese inscriptions on it to highlight the importance of being careful with words.
Besides the installation, Raffles City is also hosting an art exhibition called, “The Language of Flowers” organized by VSA Singapore. The exhibition, that starts from now till the 7 November, located along the level 1 walkway (between Coach and Robinsons) will showcase works by disabled artists and these works can be purchased by members of the public.