PETALING JAYA: Fifty-one-year-old Tan Gaik Hoon is not of Peranakan descent, though it is easy to make that assumption when you set your eyes on her acrylic paintings depicting the rich heritage of Peranakan culture.
Before dabbling in Peranakan paintings, the Perak-born artist depicted Malay women in rural village-style settings. But childhood memories of helping her mother make an assortment of colourful Nyonya kuih steered her in a new direction.
“My late mother was a Nyonya kuih maker, and when I was a kid I would spend all my free time helping her make all sorts of delicious kuih – angku, kuih koci, glutinous rice dumplings, steamed yam cake and kuih talam,” she tells FMT.
“My neighbour, too, made all sorts of delicious Nyonya food such as kuih and rempah udang, so these inspired me to begin a series of Nyonya kuih paintings.”
The former art teacher educated herself on the culture and now goes all out to recreate, with precision, what Nyonya life looks like.
For example, she puts on a beautiful embroidered kebaya and sarong, and poses alongside props such as authentic Peranakan bowls while her husband takes a photograph as a visual reference.
Gaik Hoon, who is a member of the Malaysian Watercolour Society, explains that every detail in a painting needs to be accurate, especially to the eyes of Peranakan people.
She also hopes to educate the younger generation on Nyonya traditions.
To that end, her paintings come with detailed explanations on the items featured – angku kuih stands for longevity; huat kuih represents wealth; a pair of birds symbolise the sun, harvest and fertility; a rose represents a family’s love for one another; and the lotus is a symbol of purity and perfection.
But even someone with her experience can find it difficult to get all the details just right.
“The toughest prop I ever painted was the huge vase, due to the complexity of its craftsmanship,” she says. “Every little design was so unique and so small.”
She takes around a week to finish small paintings but larger ones usually require a month or more, depending on how intricate she wants the finished artwork to be. When she is busy focusing on an artwork, Gaik Hoon can count on her husband, Lee Weng Fatt, to lend a hand.
“He is also an artist, known for his paintings of historical buildings, and is extremely supportive. He takes care of everything, from assisting me with a fresh canvas all the way to accompanying me when I deliver a painting to a client.”
Gaik Hoon’s art has been displayed in galleries around Malaysia as well as in countries such as Singapore and the US.
Her paintings featured in the 22nd Korea New Art Festival, and she was the consolation-prize winner of a competition organised by Kontena Nasional and the Shah Alam Gallery in 1993, which resulted in her work being displayed in Europe and other countries.
To view more of Gaik Hoon’s artwork on Peranakan culture, visit her Facebook page.
By : Reena Sekaran – FMT Lifestyle