Philanthropist Yeow Teck Chai paints for a cause in joint exhibition with artist Oon Soon Keat

The former deputy director-general of Mida wants to create art that reminds society of the significance of nurturing children’s dreams.

Yeow's works are inspired by a blend of personal experiences and observations (All photos: Yeow Teck Chai)

What inspired you to come up with the paintings for Let Our Children Dream? Were they influenced by your own experiences, perhaps involving your children or your own childhood?
Yeow Teck Chai: My inspiration stems from a blend of personal experiences and observations. I’m surrounded by children — my own as well my nieces and nephews — and their presence has a profound impact on me. I love children a lot, of course. I play with them, and make bird sounds to make them laugh. The sheer joy of watching their merriment gives me such a thrill. It’s those moments that drive my passion for this exhibition.

Beyond personal connections, I’ve also noticed the evolving childhood experiences in today’s world. I see them playing with their toys and spending their time differently from when I was growing up. When I was young, we would go out to play in the morning and only come back in the evening; our parents wouldn’t even ask us where we were. This stark contrast to the digitally driven environment of today saddens me. Children seem to lack the same dreams and aspirations we once held. The observation urged me to create art that would remind society of the significance of nurturing children’s dreams.

How did Oon Soon Keat come to be a part of this exhibition, on from Sept 6 to 10 at Bangsar Shopping Centre, Kuala Lumpur?
I first heard about Oon during a previous charity art show and found his focus on portraiture to be very similar to mine. We kept in touch and, about a year ago, I asked him to collaborate with me on this one.


All the proceeds will go to the Society for the Severely Mentally Handicapped and the Free Food Society

All the proceeds will go to the Society for the Severely Mentally Handicapped and the Free Food Society. Why?
I believe God has blessed me with talents, opportunities and a fulfilling life. I never took any art lessons and yet I can paint. I am incredibly thankful for my upbringing, career, family and all the goodness I’ve experienced. Upon retirement, I realised I could use my artistic talent to give back to society. It’s heartwarming to know my artwork can make a difference.

Your work revolves around the theme of dreams. What is your inspiration behind this?
I remember a phrase I often encountered: No castles are built by dreams, and none without. This idea resonated deeply, leading me to contemplate the importance of dreams. One day, during one of my walks, it dawned on me to hold an exhibition centred around children’s dreams. Looking through old photographs and reflecting on my own journey, my family and I toyed with the idea of a theme. We finally settled on “Let Our Children Dream”.

Are the paintings for this show recent works? And who wrote the text for the book?
The majority of these paintings were painted in the last two years. My daughter Charlotte was able to write the text for the book and, being the sensitive girl that she is, she was able to understand me enough to help convey more than just a sense of nostalgia and whimsy from the paintings, but to also get the reader to think about dreams and what they mean to children and our own inner child. The book is divided into five chapters that spell out the word dream (Destiny, Roots, Elation, Amigos and Mercy) and, within these broad categories, we prompt the reader to think about all the various ingredients that help us achieve our dreams. There is also a nod to the less fortunate or less able among us who need more support to be on an equal footing with other children but also have every right to dream.

What would you like visitors to take away when they leave the exhibition?
I hope it [pricks] their conscience. I want parents and society to realise the importance of fostering children’s dreams, encouraging them to explore, dream big and break free from societal constraints. Let them mix around and don’t confine them to rigid beliefs. I aim to inspire a brighter, more inclusive future in which children grow up with aspirations and values that transcend narrow beliefs. I hope visitors will leave the exhibition with a renewed commitment to guiding youth towards meaningful dreams.

This article first appeared on Sept 4, 2023 in The Edge Malaysia.


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