Frozen on canvas: Paintings should be of a time, painted in the moment

Sunset by Sarawak River, 1987 - Chong Liew Syn.

By Ling Hui

KOTA SAMARAHAN, Jan 20: In the presence of a breathtaking sunset, while many would reach for their phones or cameras to capture the moment, the late Chong Liew Syn had a different instinct—she would pick up her paintbrushes and start painting the moment.

Chong’s philosophy was clear: paintings should be of a time, painted in the very moment.  This was the guiding principle she imparted to her students at the Sarawak Fine Arts School, an institution she founded in 1975.


It was the first private art institute to secure the government’s accreditation in this region, and graduates of the school could use their certificates to get jobs at schools as art teachers locally and overseas.

Chong, who died in 1999 at 50.

Friday (Jan 19) marks the beginning of an exhibition at Hoan Gallery in La Promenade Mall, showcasing approximately 60 pieces of Chong’s life’s work. The exhibit will run for eight weeks until March, offering a glimpse into her artistic journey, with many pieces never previously unveiled.

According to Chong’s eldest son Ken Loh, the current pieces on display represents only a portion of his mother’s entire collection of about 300 pieces.

He confessed that these paintings used to be a burden to him when they were left sitting in their shoplots, collecting dust. However, now, it feels like a dream fulfilled.

“What was I supposed to do with them? Was I to leave them there to collect dust? If I just keep them, I’ll feel very guilty. So, this is a dream come true,” he said.

Looking ahead, Loh hinted at a possible teacher-student art exhibition to display more of Chong’s artwork alongside creations from her her students.

Ken Loh, the eldest son of Chong.

Chong’s teaching tools, old palettes, paint brushes, and nostalgic memorabilia such as brochures from decades-old student art shows are also featured in the gallery.

The majority of Chong’s artworks are for sale, with prices ranging from approximately RM3,000 to over RM10,000, depending on medium, size, and age.

Deputy Premier of Sarawak Datuk Amar Dr Sim Kui Hian, who happens to be Chong’s former student, officiated the opening of the exhibition at Hoan Gallery last night (Jan 19). — DayakDaily

Chong’s artworks on display at Hoan Gallery, La Promenade Mall.
One of the cozy corners exhibiting Chong’s art piece.