Peranakan inspiration

7 Nov 2016

A SNEAK PREVIEW – watch it!

ART and the love of BEAUTY have always been an integral part of life of Nyonyas (Chinese Peranakan ladies) and Babas (Chinese Peranakan men); from their dressing to cooking and presentation of the dishes to spiritual offerings and past-times (from singing the cheeky Dondang Sayang to the fine embroidery of beaded slippers).

This glamourous way of life has inspired many Malaysian artists to paint and represent it with motifs taken from everyday life – the utensils for eating, tools for grinding spices, food carriers, right down to the colourful morsels of Nyonya Kuih (pieces of steamed cakes make from rice and glutinous rice flour, coloured and flavoured with extracts from local leaves and flowers).


Sherin Ng Lay Hwa is one such artist, painting her own heritage in the lovely “Nyonya colours”, a palette of colours that was painted on crockery (plates, bowls, cups) designed specially for the Peranakan community by makers in China centuries ago. Greatly inspired by fond memories of her childhood, she started seriously painting in 2011. She paints in a variety of media – watercolour, acrylic and even wax (batik).

MALAYSIA is a multi-cultural nation with a rich history and made up of descendants from many ethnic groups, mainly Malay, Chinese and Indian. But we also have indigenous people, descendants from Gurkhas, Eurasians, Portuguese, Armenians, etc.. and the Peranakans. Simply put , Peranakan refers to someone born in the Straits Settlement (Penang, Melaka and Singapore).

Chinese Peranakan is best known by their delicately embroidered blouses, sarong kebayas, as well as their delicious food! They are Chinese who have settled in Malaya (long time ago) and either by inter-marriages or by living among the locals and the British in Malaya, have generated a unique culture. To further divide, the Penang Peranakans’ and Melaka Peranakans’ spoken language have evolved differently and are quite unrecognisable among the two.

Into the mix, we also have Jawi Peranakan, who are descendants from inter-marriages between Northern Indians and local Malays and Indian Peranakans known as Chitty who are of Tamil origins.

Sherin Ng Lay Hwa’s works will be part of the Cultural Dresses and Costumes segment of LAB2016., together with other works from Efat Amiri (Iran), Rozlina Khairi (Malaysia) and Tomoko Nakai (Japan).