It was a humid sweaty summer of 1998 in the jungles of Mawai Lama. There stood a 10 year old girl dumbfounded as she gazed at the meandering milky way for the very first time. The world never felt more limitless as she pondered about how tiny her existence is in the vast ocean of the universe. I was that girl; doe-eyed, jaw agaped, and standing open-heartedly to the skies on Mawai Eco camp with the Sedeli River keeping us company. This was my first encounter with self-awareness. Never would i have thought it would happen in a rural province north of Kota Tinggi Town in a campsite built over a freshwater swamp, entirely made of wooden stilts from the nearby forest by Orang Aslis. It was the school holidays and i was strong armed by some aunts to be on this trip as a guinea pig to aid some hot shot in test bedding an adventure camp learning experience (Unbeknownst to the plebeian 10 year old me then, that hot shot spearheading the camp was Architect Dr Tay Kheng Soon) and i’ve been thanking my lucky stars that made that milky way for the life-changing awakening.
With my eye’s wide open now, I grew to understand the giving generosity of nature and how it’s love needed to be responded with good stewardship. Slowly over the years, i increased my involvement to advocate positive change with all that i can offer. Starting with baby steps of recycling religiously to volunteering to help clear up trash by the coasts. Eventually graduating from taking responsibility of my own personal carbon footprint and striving to be carbon neutral. It was only after gained some confidence in my "professional" field that I started injecting green dialogues with my vocational skillsets. May it be championing the NEA’s Eco Music Challenge, or performing for environmentalist organizations (i.e. The Singapore Eco Film Festival at the Marina Bay Sands Art Science Museum, ACRES, WWF’s Earth Day, Jane Goodall Institute), I have grown more determine with my convictions and progressively grown more vocal with my advocacy.
For many years I struggled on what my heart wanted to say as an artist. You see, as much as I believe in cathartic expression with art, I always felt an artist needs to eventually graduate from "personal passion" to "compassion". That real art needs to serve a higher, relevant purpose beyond self-expression and that the best works are as universal as it is personal. I don't claim to know exactly what I'm trying to say, but I do get clarity with each passing day as I excavate the world.
But I really won't be where I am in thought if it weren't for the amazing humans I've manage to cross-paths with. People who have challenged and inspired me in equal parts.
My aunt, Tan Beng Chiak - an educator, long time member of The Nature Society & Jane Goodall Institute. Kia Jiehui from the Asia Pacific Senior Sustainability Advisor of Forum For The Future. Tan Yi Han of PM.Haze (People’s Movement to Stop Haze). And of course the remarkable Mark Cheng from Avelife/Green Xchange.
Quite often, I'd beat myself up and wish I had more "useful" skillsets that could tangibly contribute to an altruistic cause. But I eventually do catch myself with a reminder that the work of an artist is just as important as any field. As Chuck Palahniuk said,
I think back fondly to that humid sweaty summer of 1998 in the jungles of Mawai Lama. Oh please forces of the universe, gift everyone the same awakening; to be that doe-eyed, jaw asgaped, and standing open-heartedly. For this world never felt more limitless.