Lost in Mind, 2008 by Eng Hwee Chu

Born in Johor in 1967, Eng Hwee Chu graduated from the Malaysian Institute of Art in 1989. Hwee Chu is the recipient of many major awards including first prize in the Philip Morris Asean Art Awards in 1994 and the Painting Award, Salon Malaysia 3 at the National Art Gallery in 1991. She has also exhibited locally and internationally most notably at the Osaka Triennale in Osaka, Japan in 2001 and the second Asia Pacific Triennale in Brisbane, Australia in 1996, as well as in Singapore, Hong Kong, Thailand and Malaysia. In early 2013 Eng participated in “Women In Betweeen: Asian Women Artists 1984-2012” in Fukoka, Japan with her work “The Role of the Female”. Notable institutional collections that house her work include Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Fukoka Art Museum, Singapore Art Museum and National Art Gallery Kuala Lumpur.

‘Lost in Mind’ relays Eng Hwee Chu’s deftness and delight in painting as well as her fantastic figurative skill, emphasised by the thick border of detailed portraits of her three children. Presented in joyful, playful poses these first tell us the figure is a subject she has easily mastered then the value of motherhood to her. This duality of meaning embedded in these portraits marks ‘Lost In Mind’ out as an extremely special painting for Hwee Chu. The repeated crowd of children to the canvas’ right is mirrored by a long section on the left, filled with figures in traditional Chinese styling, overlaid with a single long Chinese lady. While refined, the detailing here is focused on the Chinese dress and patterns as opposed to creating individualistic portraits that shine with personality. A story forms as viewers understand the value Hwee Chu places on her own heritage as a Chinese Malaysian while balancing her contemporary existence as a painter and personal investment on the family she has built. A focus on heritage is furthered by the elements of Chinese architecture, hinting that culture influences all aspects of her life and surroundings, raising existential questions on identity and how the past and present are balanced for Hwee Chu, a contemporary woman.

Hwee Chu’s use of compositional overlap in ‘Lost in Mind’ creates perspective and depth. Crowding together several elements we understand those thoughts that dominate her mind, and this emphasised by her centring the painting with portraits of herself. Known to possess a shy personality Hwee Chu has created artistic avatars for herself rather than faithfully depicting her face. The seminal ‘Black Moon’ series that launched her to critical acclaim was when audiences were first introduced to the Red Figure who communicates her True Self, and is often shown to be in anguish or uncertainty. ‘Lost in Mind’ has the Red Figure in a reflective pose alongside a smiling masked White Figure of present day Hwee Chu, hinting that at the point of painting she was coming into her own as artist, mother and contemporary woman.