Thursday, May 24, 2012

King of the Sea and other creative pursuits

I went to a book reading yesterday by Malaysian writer Dina Zaman (she's called 'literary hottie' on the internet, how fabulous is that?) in UM to listen to her talk about her latest book "King of the Sea" which is a book compiled of short stories.

I expected to be starstrucked and get in line to buy her book and get her autograph while blushing and gushing like a teenage girl (long past that phase) after the discussion. (Think Justin Bieber and his girl-fans). But the friendly writer didn't give me a chance to get me starry-eyed because she caught me looking for the location of the book talk and I ended up getting us there. Yay to my inner GPS!

This lady made the coldest person fall in love with her easily, she's amiable, she's funny, she's real. I think modern society taught us to admire and fear people who have carve out a name for themselves in a creative career. We think of us as us, and them as them, artists and writers as geniuses, and we put a divide between them and us. So we expect these talented souls to be proud and a little cuckoo. Because I think secretly we're a little jealous of their success and want to sooth our egos that we're not pursuing our real passion because we're not crazy and because we're sane and we follow rules. But I am incredibly humbled as Dina has no celebrity-aura going on with her; she's like a friend who reads you stories (from her own book) around a bonfire while you bbq marshmallows. (except we had curry puffs and hot tea and air-con).

And if you have seen this lady upfront, you must read her works. For it's as good as the woman herself. I love King of the Sea, because it's a book rich with mythology and folklores, and I am a sucker for these because the magic realism always has the charm and power to draw me deep into its mystery, with its seduction of the supernatural, ambiguous setting and endings. And as much as I love mythology and legends of the ancient Egyptian and ancient Greece civilizations, I know that Malaysia has an abundant of folklores that have been passed down orally and it's not lacking in richness in comparison. It's a shame that not many scholars or writers have taken the path of writing about them, hence they got lost, or they become secondary to the things that supposedly "matters", like fighting for surival, paying the bills, putting food on the table, or going to the mall.
In sharing her works, Dina urges us to write. She says we each have stories within us, stories we've heard and collected by listening to others, by sharing our ideas. And if we don't write, the stories die with us, in us. Neil Gaiman says "I learned to write by writing. I tended to do anything as long as it felt like an adventure, and to stop when it felt like work, which meant that life did not feel like work." Maybe we really needn't worry about where writing might take us, or whether we could see these books, instead we keep on writing and see where it leads us.

For the whole of Neil Gaiman's speech click here.

I think about why I hunger for myths, for stories that seemed to have no connection to "ordinary daily living", the stories of gods and goddesses of prepatriarchal cultures, lores of the shamans and spirit animals and how they fuel my love for life, and art. Without them I shrink. Life would be barren and empty. Without myths I can no longer paint and make art. It's great that she's written this book, I could see the connection of the local folklores with the ones from a completely different time and culture. I could see that although we desperately differentiate ourselves by gender, race, religion yet underneath our psyche is the collective memory of perhaps, something ancient, primitive and even... similar.

I think about people who label themselves as belonging to a particular religion. But they don't necessarily just practice the religion and full stop. Like the Buddhist priestess I know whom works with crystals, the Malay girl who reads tarot etc. There's always that blurring of beliefs when they cross-over to look for a shaman, a bomoh, witch-doctor, healer, alternative medicines when the orthodox religion gives them no comfort. It's that longing for that sacredness, that connection, the need to believe in something, a ritual, magic, the unknown. It's ingrained within culture and there's no real split between religion and magic rituals actually. And The King of the Sea is exploring the breaching out these boundaries that organized religion so fiercely guards.

I thank people like Dina Zaman and Neil Gaiman for doing what they've been doing, and giving us invaluable tips to continue the often zigzag and unpredictable pattern of the creative journey. Creative mentors are rare gems and hard to come by, and I don't necessarily want to follow their way, but rest assured at least I can be inspired by that fighting spirit!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Breaking Dawn

After a long break from blogland, (one imposed on myself) the reason being that I've to finish my Masters dissertation, which speaks about artist and the creative process, by reading and critiquing Margaret Atwood's novels. The title for my dissertation is a funky one, "the female artist as postmodern shaman: revisioning myth and subverting identity". However much I love painting, this thesis has been in the way and I needed to get it done once and for all. It took me a little more than half a year, and here I am, after a long period of hibernating with words, journals and writing, I'm back to my first love - painting.

The feeling is one of immense relief ..... I just felt like sighing for a long time after a stressful period of reading academic journals day and night. I love literature, I love words, ideas, stories, don't get me wrong. But it's alot of head knowledge and I'm starving for heart expression. It's not that word can't do that. But in the academic world, they're not looking so much for heart knowledge. Even if it does, it must be put in an academic way to persuade that it matters. So all this time I'm in my cave with my thesis, I'm longing and longing for the freedom of expressing the unknown with paint- colours, strokes, shapes...

And I've just handed my thesis in, even though it's not yet published, but it's in the final stage... (so now I can finally rest my overfried brain, and fatigued body and mind) hehe, pardon the drama queen within me!

I'm exploring a new style of expression! There's a lot of play with multilayering and playing with the dancing movement of colours and being organic and in the flow! I'm loving it so far. Painting is healing for me. I realized if I paint, I don't need to sooth myself or indulge in comfort food. I think I'm naturally very sensitive and so making art is a great way to channel all the excessive energy and nonsensical moods!

So this new work, "Breaking Dawn" is an artwork about breaking out from the shadows of the self and being seen out in the world, and allowing myself to not know all the answers, to be ok with doubt and insecurities, to be ok with multiple choices present to me at the same time, to be just ok. With the messiness that is call LIFE.

There was FEAR (as expected by the perfectionist side of me), so much of it, before painting, during painting... of where the new style might lead me. This artwork is made up of several layers, each one foreshadowing the next one, each one supporting the next layer, each one allowing the next one to emerge and appear while also humbly allowing some elements of itself to be sacrificed...  Isn't this so much like life, the past allowing the next phase to emerge as it fades into the background, the old gives way to the new, without death there is no renewal of life.

I was just amazed by how art and life is intertwined, the lessons I am learning from art shows me my life, and my life also shows up in my art. These two are intimately interwoven.

I'm really excited about this new phase of my life that is showing up after I graduate from my Masters in English Literature. Excited and scared. To be precise.

I'm signing up for MA in art therapy in Singapore, and I'm praying, hoping, dancing under the rain in trance (this one obviously exaggerated) so that I may get in. I've a good feeling about this. Art is healing, there's no question about it. The question is, how do I support a living doing art and teaching the public how much benefit one may reap from creative expression? In a world increasingly complex and perhaps hungry for that soulfulness because it is so severely lacking, will art be one of the answer to come back within? Yes, I would love to work with the marginalized community, autistic children, senior citizens, but unless ordinary people like you and me have risen up to regain the soul from art-making, art as therapy will remained exclusively reserved for 'pathology', but its potential is far more than that, it is an access to greater spiritual heights and depth, a tool to raise awareness and for self-discovery. It is, from the most ancient of times, a tool to access the gods, and these gods are just the highest potential of us waiting to be accessed and explored.

I really envisioned a world where people consume less and create more. So we've more happy and authentic people and lesser shopaholics!