Malaysian woman once told she ‘couldn’t do art to save her life' to hold exhibition showcasing work

·4-min read
Malay Mail
Malay Mail

PETALING JAYA, June 23 — Malaysian corporate trainer and coach Sheila Singam never imagined that she would have her own art exhibition with her paintings up for sale.

For the longest time, she held on to the belief that she ‘couldn’t do art to save her life’ — a statement that had been planted into her by her art teacher in secondary school.

“I believed what my teacher said that I couldn’t do art.

“Even in university, I didn’t even take biology in university as I feared drawing,” she told Malay Mail during her art exhibition at Petaling Jaya’s Temu House.

Art however found a way into her life when her late husband KP Waran was battling cancer in 2018.

It was at that time that she found solace in colouring books.

“I began to understand colour combinations and found colouring to be therapeutic as it kept me calm during those stressful times.

“My brother, who’s also an artist in New Zealand challenged me to pick up the art since I’m in the business of coaching people to unleash their full potential.

“He told me to not hold on to that fear and to do something about it,” Sheila shared.

“My children and siblings also encouraged me to take the first step — to find a way to overcome that limiting belief that had been with me for some time.”

From enrolling in art classes to Forest in the Brain exhibition

In 2019, she enrolled in Art Therapy, an art class in Bangsar where she discovered mixed media painting techniques — artworks composed from a combination of different media or materials.

“I was fortunate that my art teacher recognised the free spirit in me and encouraged me to express myself through my art and guided me into the realm of mixed-media art.

“So my first painting that I ever produced was called Chaos as it was during my experimenting period with mixed media art.”

Having received compliments from people on her artwork, Sheila was encouraged to go further in her artistic venture. — Picture by Hari Anggara
Having received compliments from people on her artwork, Sheila was encouraged to go further in her artistic venture. — Picture by Hari Anggara

Having received compliments from people on her artwork, Sheila was encouraged to go further in her artistic venture. — Picture by Hari Anggara

When the pandemic hit in 2020, the corporate trainer and coach remained undeterred and was geared to finish what she started — learning mixed media art through YouTube videos.

“I received all the materials needed for my artwork so it was just a matter of watching videos to get inspiration such as what to put on my canvas.

“Over time, I’ve been inspired by other things such as a saree, or something historical or even political that I’ve read and to endeavour to translate them into my paintings.

“Usually, I would need to feel satisfied with the outcome of the painting before moving on to the next one.”

During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, Sheila began creating bolder pieces as she experimented with various materials and even incorporated PPE material as a tribute to frontliners.

When she shared her artworks with friends and family members, many gave positive feedback and that encouraged her to go further in her artistic venture.

“I didn’t think people would like my art but I was happy when some even asked me whether my paintings were for sale.

“A local artist had told me to do my own exhibition but due to the many lockdown restrictions, I had to postpone the exhibition Forest in The Brain.

“From being told not to do art to having my own exhibition — it definitely feels surreal.”

The exhibition displays a collection of mixed-media acrylic on canvas pieces that pays homage to neuroplasticity — the ability of neural networks in the brain to change through growth and reorganisation which makes up the theme ‘Forest in The Brain’.

“It is really important to not listen to people when they discourage you or tell you that you’re unable to do something.

“I’ve told myself that the paintings that I do are for myself — I’m not doing it to please anyone.

“I’m no Picasso or some famed artist but for me, if I can get over my limiting beliefs, I can do and achieve anything else that I want to.” Sheila has managed to sell five out of the total of thirty paintings, and will be donating 20 per cent of the proceeds to two cancer patients.

“This is my small initiative of making a difference to cancer patients and also honouring my late husband.

“My philosophy is to help one person at a time.” Her art exhibition in Petaling Jaya’s Temu House started on June 18 and will end on June 26, and is open to the public on Saturdays and Sundays from 10am till 4pm.