Source: The Star/ Malaysia / Youth2, August 16, 2001 

Inspired by Life                     by Sheela Chandran

Sheela Chandran speaks to Lee Hui Ling, a 19-year-old who held her first solo art exhibition in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia) last week. 

Lee Hui Ling looked stunning - but nervous: "This is the first time I am wearing a baju kebaya and I hope I look all right."

"I designed the baju with our three ethnic groups in mind. The kebaya cut symbolises the Malay community, the Mandarin collar signifies the Chinese while the saree material represents the Indian," she said, touching the soft silky fabric.

When we sat down to talk, it was about half-an-hour to the launch of Hui Ling's first solo art exhibition in Kuala Lumpur. Datin Seri Endon Mahmood, wife of the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, was to do the honours . Anxiety was written all over the artist's face as she waited for her special guest.

"I'm excited and happy to share my art with the public for the first time. I'm equally nervous, however, and I hope everything works out as planned," she said.

Born to parents who are artists (father, Lee Kian Seng is an artist and sculptor, while mum Shoko Lee is an artist and children book writer), it's no surprise that she has inherited their artistic qualities. Hui Ling first picked up the paintbrush when she was merely two years old. When her parents realised her potential, they continued to encourage her and the rest, as they say, is history.

"Art is an education, the substance of life. It has been an element in my life whereby creativity is a positive outlet for intellectual and emotional development. I am lucky to be in such a conducive environment for visual artistic development, thanks to my parents," explained Hui Ling, who is from Klang.

To date, this elder of two girls has painted 39 works comprising portraits (four self-portraits and two of sis, Hui Lian), scenes from Port Klang, animals (dogs and cat, to be exact) and imaginative compositions (eight).

"This is a selection of works dating from my childhood and early adolescence, and some recent pieces. There is a fine line between my adolescence and adulthood. The development is interesting - how I express the quirky habits of my pet dogs, the sombre and eccentric self-portraits, and the bustling mamak stall by the river," she explained.

Of her works, 31 depict scenes from around Klang - coffee shops, restaurants, boats at the quay and fishing trawlers in Port Klang. They reflect her observations of day-to-day life around her.

Looking at Hui Ling's imaginative pieces, it isn't difficult to identify the distinct changes in her brush strokes. She has matured through the years and her intrinsic talent is obvious.

"I am inspired by life and interesting people. There are so many dimensions and I paint in accordance to my flow and mood." It takes her about a day to complete a painting.

Apart from a talent in art, Hui Ling excels academically too. In 1999, she received the outstanding student award for scoring 8A's in her SPM. For her PMR examination in 1997, she scored 7A's.

When asked how she balances studies with art, this modest lass merely shrugged her shoulders and grinned.

"Art is one of the forms of recreation which I pursue avidly. It complements my studies and schoolwork synergistically. I believe that discipline and dedication are the keys to managing my hectic life, " said Hui Ling, who enjoys listening to groups like Vangelis, Dream Dancer and Timeless Motion.

She was recently awarded the Sarah Lawrence College Board of Trustees Scholarship to study Liberal Arts at the Sarah Lawrence College in New York. (The college was named the Liberal Arts College of the Year in the 2000 edition of The Best College for You, a co-publication of Time magazine and The Princeton Review.) She leaves for the Big Apple in a week and is extremely excited about that.

"My four-year degree programme will consist of a combination of creative writing, art history and visual art, with the possible inclusion of information technology. I have no particular line of interest as yet, however. Perhaps when I'm in college, I'll discuss with my lecturers the possibilities of majoring in a particular subject."

It is her first trip abroad and she wants to make the most of it.

"I'm happy because I'll have the chance to live independently and meet people from different backgrounds and cultures. This will enable me to broaden my horizon and mould me into a mature person," said Hui Ling.

Sheela Chandran ,August 16, 2001,The Star Malaysia

Sheela Chandran and Lee Hui Ling  (2001/08/10)