Sylvia Lee-Goh. 1940, Penang. The Grande Dame of Straits Settlements Peranakan Art.
She produced a distinctive progression of artworks based on childhood experiences growing up in a Peranakan household, whose family members were intrinsically Babas and Nyonyas. An artist who has made a huge impression on the Malaysian art scene, her life’s works exemplify captured moments in time, of the Peranakan life, cultural rituals and social legacy in the British Crown colonies of the Straits Settlements comprising Penang, Malacca and Singapore.
Sylvia Lee-Goh’s paintings encapsulate memories and personal narratives that vividly reflect her adulation of the glorious period she fondly reminisces.
Art is in her vein, and for Sylvia, it speaks a lot to be included in a “Salon Malaysia” exhibition – her works have been exhibited alongside top Malaysian artists, and in prestigious galleries. In 1995, one of her works received an honorary award at the most prestigious arts competition, the Philip Morris ASEAN Arts Awards – a curated art program that rewards artistic excellence. Notably, a significant achievement for a self-taught artist.
The opportunity to present her own solo in the National art Gallery, now known as the National Visual Art Gallery, in 1998 with an exhibition entitled “Two Decades of Art- From the Heart: 1978-1998 held at the National Art Gallery’s Creative Centre explicably endorsed Sylvia’s status as one of Malaysia’s art virtuosos. Almost 17 years later, she held her second solo exhibition entitled “Sylvia Lee-Goh – Dulu Dan Kini: Jiwa Abadi. Then and Now: The Enduring Years” in 2015. The exhibition presented her selected works in her almost 50 years of artistic career.
Several of Sylvia Lee-Goh’s outstanding showpieces have earned her their prestigious place in the permanent collection of both the National Visual Art Gallery of Malaysia and the Penang State Art Gallery. Distinguished provenance is graciously accorded to her through private collectors who rank among her discerning patrons.
The singularity of her painting is highly acknowledged by academics, many who have written their dissertations presented at international conferences and university lectures based on their paintings’ interpretations. Such presentations are aimed at forging a deeper understanding of a unique hybrid community that exists till today – in particular, the Peranakan Chinese, also known as the Baba and Nyonya or Straits Chinese who came to the Malay archipelago and British Malaya as far back as 500 to 600 years ago.
Their research references her work as a visual journey; for Sylvia, art reflects her spirit and interest connecting with the immediate local realities inspired by her own cultural background and childhood memories, living as a Peranakan.
When a woman artist sets out to create, who is she?
Sylvia Lee-Goh depicted the world she knew; recording with insight and originality. Women like herself, writing letters, poems, sewing, reading or engaging in other domestic or social activities. She embraced the techniques and influences of Impressionism where she developed her own unique artistic language that often explored themes rarely touched on by male artists – the contemporary lives of middle-class women. This choice of subject was somewhat inescapable as, like the women she portrayed, she successfully created a uniquely female interpretation of what life looked and felt like in the Peranakan era, capturing a segment of the later 19th century life that may have otherwise been forgotten through the passage of time.
She paints her ‘gardens of Eden,’ the natural habitat that embraces her, to allow the natural environment to have a voice. For Sylvia, it is a synergy between the artist and the land, and fondly cherishes this connection with nature, deeply appreciating the artistic exchange that opens up many opportunities.
We relish the depth of emotions Sylvia Lee-Goh, the artist, exudes when painting any of her favourite subjects – women, nature and still life. Oftentimes, she brings together women, the habitat and food into a single composition.
In the artist’s own words,
“As an artist, my paintings are expressions of my impressions, personal statements of interest, feelings and attitude.
I work to evoke and provoke curiosity, a sense of nostalgia and promote aesthetic appreciation. There is always something to share with the viewer.
And since I am a woman, I chose to paint women as I understand them better.”
A brilliantly crafted copper-tool medallion-shaped assemblage pairing two of the most auspicious mythical symbols in Chinese mythology. The Dragon and Phoenix represent reverence for the spirits and fortune.
The Peranakans, despite having adapted to the local lifestyle, have still retained many of its Chinese culture and traditions, including feng shui, which this piece of art encapsulates.
La Galerie Du Monde
The wizardry and diversity of the artist’s creative talent go beyond the ubiquitous canvas. She has crafted an exclusive yet-to-be revealed collection of copper and aluminium tooling alert.
Made exclusively available for viewing at La Galerie du Monde, experience the first-hand look of the splendid and marvellous gems of Sylvia Lee-Goh’s artistic supremacy.