December 2014, a month after I had sent in my application, I received an invitation to participate in the “First International Biennale of Art, Umbria” which would be held from 28th March until 3rd May in Italy. I was over the moon! My dream of exhibiting my works in Europe had come true!
Now, let me briefly explain what a “Biennale” is and why I saw this as a milestone in my art career. A “Biennale” is a large art exhibition that is held once every two years. I was particularly excited to be introduced to a large stage whereby respectable and dedicated artists from all around the world would come together to share this ignited passion – Art. I also had this opportunity to expose my work to a bigger foreign audience. It would serve as a stepping stone to going beyond my comfort zone into unknown territories while at the same time it would expose my work to the art critics. However, as intimidating as the thought was, I was also excited about this whole adventure!
28th March finally came. I witnessed the grand opening of the biennale in Umbertide. Many artists came from different parts of Italy, Russia, Romania, Saudi Arabia … and finally one from South East Asia. That was me. Different cultures united in the welcoming hall as the grand inauguration of the “First International Biennale of Art, Umbria” began and although I did not understand a single Italian word, I was beaming with enthusiasm!
More than 100 artists had their work showcased in three historical venues in Umbria, namely Umbertide, Montone and Pietralunga. There was a vast variety of art on display: paintings and sculptures, ranging from contemporary to traditional, from landscape to portraiture, from abstract to realism. Among the magnificent works, I found those of fellow participating artists’ like Alunni Alberto, Adriano Cipolletti and Assunta Cassa to be the most captivating. Alunni Alberto is a skilled blacksmith who makes intricate sculptures from iron. Among his soulful creations are flowers, birds, fishes and landscapes. I could feel the life in his sculptures as details were not spared in any of them: feathers on a bird, wind in a flower and waterfall in a landscape. I was very fortunate to be invited to join Alberto and his family for dinner at his home and although Alberto speaks a little English and French we communicated with little ease as we frequently switched between these languages. When we did not understand each other, we laughed and things seemed to fall into the right places. Adriano Cipolletti is an abstract painter. Having lost his voice to an illness, Adriano faces everyday with exuberance, as one can see from the bold colours on his canvas. As I felt his freedom of colours dancing freely in unison, his works reminded me of a poem. Adriano and I communicated tirelessly via a translator app. After many attempts, when we finally understood each other, we nodded profusely and rewarded each other with a pat on the back.
One evening, after a group dinner, the artists took turns singing. When it was my turn, I was too shy to sing. They cheered me on while Assunta held my hand tightly. I mustered all my courage to sing a Chinese classic by Teresa Teng, “The moon represents my heart”. It was a great experience to share a little piece of my culture with 50 Italians that evening. Among many sweet memories, the most unforgettable one was at the Closing Ceremony of the biennale. When my name was announced, I thought it was to receive a Certificate of Participation. It was when Assunta Cassa, who had also received the same Certificate before me, congratulated me then I asked her what it meant. She explained, “It’s a special award.”
Amidst the thunderous applause, I took my seat and stared at my award. I slowly translated each word : “Special Award to Huifong Ng for her originality and techniques in her capacity of portraying intimate expressions of men and women.” That moment brought tears to my eyes.
Looking back, the biennale has not only taught me the appreciation of art, but also the appreciation of each personality who is behind the work. I also took away the greatest gift- that in this journey of exposing my art in foreign lands, I’ve come to witness the essence of art by embracing cultures and crossing the barrier of language. Art is a universal language. As artists generously contribute their personal and intimate essences into their work, I am glad that I have embarked on a road outside of my comfort zone. An artist’s journey is also his art.
“I took the one less travelled by and that has made all the difference.” Robert Frost
Huifong is an author, painter and a poet. Her book “A Cup of Simplicity – mixes poetry with her art to depict the art and pleasure of simple living. She is an intuitive painter whose works are sometimes painted without a model, a reference or a photo. Beyond Brunei, Hui Fong’s work has been exhibited in Italy and Singapore. She is also the recipient of the Premio Speciale award from Biennale of Art, Umbria.
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