Cover Yau Bee Ling's Protection, 2012

From sculpture to installation to painting, three leading contemporary local artists discourse on their works inspired by motherhood

Motherhood has always been a popular theme in art with the Madonna and Child being one of the earliest and most popular depictions. However, motherhood in all its complexity has far more shades than scenes of domestic bliss as the work of these three prominent artists can attest to. 

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Umibaizurah Mahir

Ceramic artist Umibaizurah Mahir's work have been described as playful, ironic and rich in symbolism. Indeed the Johor-born artist complex work has a surreal yet thought-provoking quality which has led to the artist representing Malaysia at the 2009 Jakarta Ceramics Biennale. She was also among the Top 10 Winners of The Young Contemporaries 2006 by The National Art Gallery Malaysia, and awarded Top 5 Winners for her collaboration with children in making clay sculpture at the Tokoname City Culture Hall, Aichi, Japan.

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Completed over four years, her three pieces, Love ‘Word of The Day', Domestic #2 and Stranded Migrants, are examples of work inspired by motherhood.


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Stranded Migrants, 2019 
Above Stranded Migrants, 2019 

"Most of my work depict animal figures, with imagined hybrids of species, animals, urban, industrial as well as natural environments, objects and machinery that linked the multitude of issues concerning our contemporary world," she says.

"There is nothing quite like a mother's love, and mothers from the animal kingdom are no exception. Mom knows best, and that's true in the animal kingdom too. Mothers in the natural world raised their offsprings and instil in them the skills they needed for survival. While we are praising our family’s matriarch, we will also remember that some of the best mothers in the world are found in the animal kingdom."

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Umi also highlights two mixed media works on watercolour paper, entitled Hand in Hand ‘New Landscape’ Series 4 and Hand in Hand New Landscape’ Series 5, which were exhibited at the Art Seasons Gallery in Singapore, 2017.

"These works portray the subconscious as a woman/mother with the daily routines of motherhood we subconsciously follow each day. It describes a day in the life as a mother. It featured a group of women who have been visually portrayed in a combination of classical and modern times, and they are surrounded by various things in their surroundings; the business of life that struggles between responsibilities, self-interest and career."

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Nor Tijan Firdaus binti Abu Bakar

Armed with a Fine Arts Master’s Degree from UITM, Nor Tijan has been making waves as a full-time contemporary artist with her play of mixed media and especially e-waste. With an arts major in sculpture, it comes as no surprise when Nor Tijan is able to transform the use of e-waste into two-dimensional sculptural format.

Many people, upon seeing her final work, may not be aware that Nor Tijan is also a talented painter and that she painstakingly paints her subject matter to create depth and perspective before selecting each component of the electronic parts and organising them into the final composition.

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Alpha Gen, 2017
Above Alpha Gen, 2017

Nor Tijan chose Alpha Gen as one of the pieces to highlight as its message is to warn, protect and teach, just like a mother would and to bring awareness to what we are doing to Mother Earth.

"I really hope this artwork can spark in the audience's minds that we are what they are in the future. There is always a room for improvement and solutions to help our environment become better. If this work can reach out to people who don't care about the environment, maybe it could change a bit their point of view. Maybe it could educate the audience to be more aware on what we really face now. This artwork may not be significant today but it may become very significant in the future. If we continue what we are doing now, most of our natural resources would be gone and future generations would have nothing to survive on."

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Another work is the bold Caution, which is a self-portrait. "The main visual is my own portrait that represents all women. As the Malay proverb goes, 'Tangan yang mengayun buaian dapat menggoncang dunia' (translation: 'The hand that rocks the cradle shakes the world'). Women are able to contribute energy and ideas to the country and it starts at home. As a mother of four beautiful kids, I am concerned for their future. We are far from what we are consuming. We often look at innovation in terms of the new products and technologies that come to the market rather than think about how we consume these new offerings," she states.

"Our lives are shaped by how we interact with the 'things' or 'stuff' we use everyday. I used discarded toys as a medium to represent the future generation (kids today) and a portrait of women."

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Yau Bee Ling

Born in Port Klang in 1972, Yau Bee Ling studied painting at the Malaysian Institute of Art. Her vibrant multi-layered works have been exhibited extensively locally and abroad, and is one of the most celebrated contemporary painters in Malaysia today.

Milestones include representing Malaysia at the 9th Asian Art Biennal in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and being showcased at the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum during the 2nd Fukuoka Triennale — her work at the latter eventually became part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Yau often describes her paintings as autobiographical, and they feature layers of colours, moods and interpretations to invite audience to delve deeper into them.

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Yau chose Protection, an oil on canvas, to represent an artwork inspired by motherhood.

"The human spirit is born when we meet ourselves deeply and intentionally. Every protection comes after a warfare or a struggle in life. Every victory is because that one never gives up and lifts up another human spirit. The hands that heal, and the hands that fill us with unconditional love."

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