Capturing the opulence of bygone days – the Nyonya art of Sylvia Lee Goh

Sylvia Lee Goh

Sylvia Lee Goh embarked on a journey of discovery of identity and self-worth. It was a long road but with a lot of encouragement and moral support.

In the mid-eighties Sylvia was a member of the Arts and Craft Guild in which she held a committee member position for two years. This Guild was under the umbrella of the American Association.

In 1986, Ahmad Khalid Yusoff, the president of the Persatuan Perlukis Malaysia invited Sylvia to become a member. She was a life member of this Association.

Sylvia had participated in twenty-eight exhibitions, two of which were organised by the National Art Gallery, "Nuance" in Jakarta, Indonesia and "Contemporary Malaysian Art" in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Beijing and Bangkok had been other foreign venues. Taking part in "Salon Malaysia 1991" was a feather in the cap. In 1994, she was thrust into abstract-expressionism when Petronas imposed a theme, "Energy" on the annual exhibition of the Malaysian Artists Association (Persatuan Perlukis Malaysia). There was no choice but to accept the challenge, but with gratifying results. Her attempt shook the artistic community with questions of direction.

Her first entry into the Philip Morris Competition earned her an Honorary Mention.

She painted what she saw, felt and experienced around her, taking special note of meaningful moments and occasions. Her colours reflected her Asianess, bright and warm.

Nyonya roots ran deep in her ancestry. Her paternal lineage was rooted in Alor Star, Kedah, where her great grandfather Lee Yoke Cheng was the Private Secretary to Sultan Ahamd Tajuddin Mukarram Shah (1855-1879). Loo Yet Leong, the maternal great grandfather, was a well-known Patriarch in Pagar Tras, in the Straits Settlement of Penang. The Artist herself was born in Bukit Mertajam, Province Wellesley.

Sylvia Lee Goh

The paintings are nostalgic of an era blessed with a culture that revelled in all things beautiful. The Nyonyas and Babas took great pride in the exquisite craftsmanship, in every aspect of their lives. Their lifestyle and customs made their existence meaningful and always full of expectations.

The landscapes are from expeditions, from the lakes to the hills – personal journeys that have gloried in the wonders of nature – paintings that could not have been – had there not been a personal presence, a communion. These are paintings from the heart – memories, feelings, nostalgia. All had played their role – sometimes poignantly. Some are not so easily interpreted, but all have meaning.

'Two Decades of Art From The Heart' – her first solo exhibition was held in 1998 at the National Art Gallery and a month later at the Penang State Art Gallery.

Sylvia Lee Goh

In 2015, her second solo exhibition 'Then And Now – The Enduring Heart' was held at the National Visual Arts Gallery from 28th July to 28th September and extended by popular demand to 22nd December.

The paintings are unique and peculiar only to her, not having been schooled in any art institution. The world at large has been her teacher and great artists her inspiration.

Sylvia Lee Goh's second solo exhibition 'Then And Now – The Enduring Heart' was opened to the public at the Penang State Art Gallery, Dewan Sri Pinang the whole month of April 2016. The official opening was held on Sunday 3 April 2016 at 3:00 pm.

Sylvia Lee Goh

On 6 March 2021, Sylvia passed away in Kuala Lumpur at 80. The sad news was announced on the National Art Gallery’s Facebook page. However her richly atmospheric and intense oil paintings surrounding her life experiences and Chinese Peranakan cultural heritage will live on.

Click here for Sylvia Lee Goh's official website

Photos © Sylvia Lee Goh. All right reserved