Feb 21, 2013

Aung San Suu Kyi Portrait


"You should never let your fears prevent you from doing what you think is right." - Aung San Suu Kyi












The little kiddies of Kinabalu International School (KIS) came to say hi! I spoke to their class a year ago; was thrilled to see them again!



Speaking to the crowd who came to see my piece! :)



I was 6 when my mother told me that a Burmese lady named Aung San Suu Kyi had won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize. I remember feeling awed by this lady who had done so much for her country, although I didn't quite understand fully what she had done.

Last December, our family watched the movie The Lady, a movie about ASSK's struggles for a democratic Burma (Myanmar). I found myself understanding and empathizing with ASSK's struggles and why she made certain choices. In the movie, there was a scene of ASSK's father putting fresh flowers behind her ears on his way out to a meeting, a meeting in which he and six of his interim cabinet ministers were assassinated by militants working for the former prime minister. Some accounts say that it is a myth that ASSK puts fresh flowers into her hair daily to remember her father. Even if it were a myth, I think that myth has become a truth with ASSK by now.

I didn't sleep the whole night thinking of how to capture ASSK's great aura, her dedication, strength, determination, compassion, intelligence, courage, poise and gracefulness in a portrait. I wanted a portrait that not only captures ASSK's political eminence but also her beauty and love for her father, and his for her, and the idea of using flowers as the main medium was born.

I experimented with white carnations and red food dye for about a month so I could really understand how capillary action of dyed water in plants work. It felt like I was back in my Grade 8 Biology class again, and if you need some tips for your science lab experiment, here's mine: 1) use FOOD DYE instead of paint, because the particles of the food dye are fine enough for the flowers to suck them up 2) a slanted cut on the stem allows a better intake of water 3) the shorter the stem the faster the colours appear 4) the colours will appear after about half an hour, but it takes approx 40 hours for them to reach maximum intensity.

ASSK is a woman who has sacrificed her personal happiness for her people. Therefore, I chose to use the colour red to represent love, passion, sacrifice and blood. The large numbers of flowers represents humans. This is the first time I'm using live objects - flowers - for my project...flowers, like humans, eventually die. This piece celebrates this little time we have here on earth called life.

After a month of planning and sourcing materials (materials are not easy to source in Kota Kinabalu), I set out to do a  3.5 x 3.5 meter portrait of ASSK using 2000 white carnations held in little plastic cups of water and food dye at the foyer of the Sutera Magellan Golf and Country Club on 24th January 2013, which happened to be my birthday. It took a full day to mark the grid lines, cut the flowers (I am grateful for the helping hands of family and friends), set up the cups and food dye and arrange the flowers into the cups. The flowers took another day to absorb the dye, and on the third day, the portrait had fully bloomed and was open to the public. This was my first art work in my own hometown, and it was a very special moment for me because my family, including my paternal grandparents and my maternal grandma, were present, and so were friends, high school friends, and people who either know or had just heard about my art. The whole atmosphere was happy, festive (Chinese New Year was in two weeks) and fun; thanks to all who came!

The installation had to be removed on the fifth day because the tropical heat and food dye had caused the flowers to wilt quickly. It was the only art work that I've done that couldn't be tangibly kept. It was also the first piece that I was more nervous about because the materials I was working with, fresh white carnations and food dye, were more intractable and subject to many factors such as absorption rate of the dye at different concentrations, the type of dye, the pureness of the water and the tendency of the deeper-colored flowers to wilt faster. I was also concerned that people wouldn't recognize The Lady but most did, although some people, including tourists, didn't know who ASSK is.

I hope the portrait does justice to ASSK, and I hope she will see this portrait some day and smile, knowing that not only the Burmese people appreciate and respect her, but hundreds of millions of people around the world too.

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ps: Oh gosh...my last post was 4 months ago! I have been busy and yet not, because I've taken some time off my day job so I can focus on my art projects. I'm back in Kota Kinabalu, Malaysia to set up my own company/studio, and to spend time at home with my family. Although I find it too slow here compared to Shanghai, it's so good to be home. Proper meals, tidy bed, ironed clothes, plenty of sunshine and fresh air. I'll be based between KK and Shanghai this year, dividing time between both cities, working on both art and architecture projects.

I'll be updating this blog very often now that I'm back, and now that I get to focus on my art projects. :)


pps: MASSIVE thanks to family and friends who came to help and support me in this project! I worked with the production crew from Vinoun Films, director/editors Eric Foo and Charles Wong, and Sutera Harbour Resorts generously allowed us to use their foyer. Couldn't have done this without a great team working with me!

32 comments:

  1. ooh, wow! That's really amazing :O.

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  2. BEAUTIFUL!!you are such a creative artist!:)

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  3. my my my! this is so super duple beautiful and brilliant!!! wahhhh! you're my inspiration!

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  4. Happy belated birthday!
    Great work, have enjoyed the video and the real portrait.
    Thank you.

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  5. respect both of u.

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  6. Amazing work as a result of amazing effort!!! We Burmese thank you so much for your imagination & hard work!

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  7. I would say this is the riskiest project thus far because it involves life medium..something that you can't patch up within seconds if anything goes wrong in the end. But i guess the amount of effort and time you spent in experimenting and understanding your medium really paid off. Congratulations to you once again for this marvellous ASSK piece. :)

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  8. Amazing result (and awesome risk you took)!

    Magic unfolds in the video, from 20 hours (segment ~1:57 onwards)
    as you squint your eyes at the 20~40-Hour image, allowing your eye lashes to mask the colours into dark red..

    There is Aung San Suu Kyi smiling at you :o)

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  9. so creative! Amazing!

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  10. Happy belated birthday to you!
    I am sure your amazing creative portrait will reach to Aung San Suu Kyi very soon and she will be sturdy enough to withstand all hardship with the strong support and inspiration of the people around the world like you.

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    1. thank u =) (and sry for sucha late reply!)
      ASSK is such a huge inspiration...the world's blessed to hv someone like her =)

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  11. fall in love with "oh i see red".

    I'm looking forward to your next creative masterpiece

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  12. Ah Red, have you ever think of using any unique material from Sabah for your portrait?

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  13. Ah Red, how about using Rafflesia? Coral? ikan bilis?...?

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    1. hehe i did play with ikan bilis for my food art series! instagram.com/redhongyi

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  14. I so love your work! You're an inspiration. Such a genius!

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  15. I am so happy to know that you'll be spending more time in Sabah! I hope to catch you "live" when I get back to KK. :)

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  16. This is a beautiful tribute to a great lady and an inspiration for so many women ~

    Thank you for the wonderful work of art ~

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  17. Hi Red! I also was inspired by ASSK when I watched the movie The Lady. Great inspiration and technique. :)

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  18. I want to meet u a lot!!!
    U r my role model from now on♥.♥

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  19. OMG........just, omg!

    I loooooooovvvvvvvveeeeeeeee so much your beautiful works of art!!!

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  20. Serious
    I'm Amazed.
    Way too creative.
    Not talented, but creative!

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  21. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  22. G R E A T a r t i s t T R I B U T E to G R E A T l a d y....

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