Artist Profile: Sivam Selvaratnam

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This post was written by Marybeth Ramey

I hope regular readers of the Artist Profile feature have been noticing that The Expat been concentrating on female artists during each issue for 2012. The featured artists for October, November, and December issues are all also women. I find they are as diverse a group, as talented and as progressive as the male artists and that, like most local artists, they can also use a break into the expat community with the exposure we are able to give them.

In Sivam, we have the queen of female artists in Malaysia, who has influenced generations of women artists as she is not only the founding members of many iconic art organizations but is also an art educator for decades of very high repute. Now 75, although appearing 2 decades younger with her vitality and energy, Sivam is still as active as ever.

Sivam was born in Kajang, Malaysia in 1937 and educated at the Convents of Kajang and Bukit Nanas, Kuala Lumpur. Initially she studied at the Malayan Teachers’ Training College in Kota Bharu and later trained as an art teacher at the Specialist Teachers’ Training Institute in Cheras. She was a pioneer and active member of the influential Wednesday Art Group (WAG), founded in 1952 by Peter Harris, the then Art Superintendent of the Federation of Malaya.

Sivam’s interest in figurative drawings and abstract forms was nurtured during this period when the WAG would feature live drawing sessions and regular art excursions. Sivam went on to participate in a number of group exhibitions as well as a solo exhibition at the British Council in 1971.

Sivam’s interest in figurative drawings was further nurtured when, in 1965, she left for England to study fine art with emphasis on textiles at Manchester College of Art and Design (now the Manchester Metropolitan University). Later, in 1979, she moved to Singapore and was appointed as the Head of the Art Elective Programme in National Junior College in Singapore. In 1984, Sivam obtained her Masters in Art and Design Education at the Institute of Education, University of London, England with a dissertation entitled “Art Education in Singapore: A Proposal for a Culture-based Art Syllabus.”

Her early artworks are based on plants and nature studies which were the main source of inspiration for her textile designs. Later, she was inspired by the music of Ravi Shankar and Ali Akbar Khan and her body of work centered on sound and movement in colour and form. This marked the beginning of her fascination with the parallels between painting and music. Some of her paintings are now in the permanent collections of the National Art Gallery, University Malaya, Bank Negara, and the American Embassy in Kuala Lumpur.

Sivam has continued to paint abstract forms in mixed media and is currently working on linear figurative studies juxtaposed with nature as well as blending energized yantras – divine geometric elements – with music. In a recent exhibition, “My Prayer,” her painting entitled “The Gayathri Mantra” expresses her innermost feelings that this mantra, in the form of sound syllables, is linked with colour and a cosmic principle.

Her solo exhibition “Maya Enraptured” will be held in the University Malaya Art Gallery (UMAG) at the University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur and run from 15 August to 15 September 2012. In line with her passion for promoting art education in Malaysia, a parallel series of seminar/workshops will also be organised in UMAG on 25 August and 8 September, in conjunction with this exhibition. The exhibition will showcase an eclectic breadth of artworks by Sivam Selvaratnam to mark her 50th wedding anniversary.

If you would like more information on Sivam or to purchase any of her artworks on these two pages, please contact me at [email protected].


Source: The Expat September 2012

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