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Healing through Art and Altruism

Malaysian-Taiwanese multi-disciplined artist Poesy Liang teaches us a thing or two about living a full and empowered life

edited Poesylife-022Some of us struggle to find that one thing we’re possibly good at, hoping to breeze through life doing what we like to do, at the same time taking some sense of satisfaction from it. Then we meet someone like Poesy Liang – entrepreneur, artist, designer, poet, composer,  philanthropist, and over-all life survivor. We stop. We listen. We are forced to examine our own lives.

At 17, Poesy was diagnosed with an aggressive spinal tumour and was deemed permanently paralysed from waist down. But it took her just over a year to learn how to walk again. At 28, she was once again faced with more spinal tumours and was once again paralysed. This time she did not completely recover, having lost sensation in both her legs. Instead of being discouraged, however, these challenges only made Poesy stronger and more determined to do more in life.

“I found healing through creative endeavours – with my art, writing, music, and welfare projects. Life has certainly unfolded in an extraordinary manner,” shares the pretty artist.

In 2007, Poesy founded Helping Angels, a global network of volunteers committed to a movement of compassion based on random acts of kindness. The movement kicked off with only 10 volunteers, taking 60 underprivileged children on a movie excursion. Today, it has grown into a worldwide organisation, covering over 20 countries with over 2,000 volunteers. Nowadays, activities include welfare of the underprivileged, education, animal welfare, and disaster aid, among others. In 2011, Poesy also established the Bald Empathy Movement, an art project  to raise sensitivity and give empathy to people with illnesses.

Poesy’s famous paintings, including a series titled ‘Rooftop Cats’ and ‘Dragonfly Lilypad’, have received worldwide recognition. Her paintings have often been described as ‘childlike’, ‘whimsical’ and ‘uplifting’. Before becoming a full time artist, Poesy designed luxury hotels and residences and jewellery. Simultaneously, she has also produced  three singles of her original compositions as well as ten jazzy covers.

Despite her busy schedule, Poesy – who is currently in Singapore illustrating and composing for a short animation about her story, which will be released in Cannes – granted Ezyhealth a very insightful interview.

Ezyhealth: You’re an artist, humanitarian, singer- songwriter, and philanthropist. How do you find inspiration and energy to be all these and more?

Poesy: I was born to parents who invested and nurtured the artist in me. Creating comes easily, since it is like a language that I spoke since birth. As for the music, I often hear new tunes in my sleep or just out-of-the-blue in a daydream. All this is my escape from the real world. Writing poems is in my birth name, and it often helps me concisely express my thoughts. Making songs is just a matter of composing music to my poems. My inspiration comes from everyday life, which to date has been nothing short of extraordinary. Some parts of my life are considered rather tragic, and I turn to these creative pursuits as a form of self-healing, where I transform the negative into positive, sometimes with a humorous outlook, too!

As for my humanitarian projects, it is also another form of self-healing while I develop and hone a dying nature (compassion and kindness) that I find very important. I did not set out to become a humanitarian or a philanthropist. I merely wanted to develop the antidote to all the unhappiness I was faced with during my various episodes of personal challenges. As for philanthropy, I figure that if I succeed in the commercial world, it is just a natural progression for my humanitarian projects to graduate into contributing to the society with my material wealth as well – of which I am an eager aspirant as of now.

Ezyhealth: At what age did you realise your artistic abilities, and how were you able to nurture them? 

Poesy: Whenever my parents had to take me out with them when I was a wee baby, they would provide me with something to doodle with to keep me quietly occupied in my  baby chair. So I held a pencil as soon as I was able to sit up independently. Upon recognising my propensity towards doodling pictures, music, and creating nursery rhymes, my parents took it very seriously to develop my skills by finding me the suitable mentors as early as I was able to communicate. Most of my elementary art education started as a mere toddler with my father’s artistic circles. Piano and ballet started when I turned six. Some other genre such as stone initial seal carving, Chinese landscape, and calligraphy started later at eight years old.

Ezyhealth: Most of our readers are parents and I’m sure they’re interested to know how they can spot their child’s artistic interests and help nurture and develop them. Do you have any tips for them?
Provide them with the tools and encourage them to create. Make sure you give them enough space to create, and remove all forms
of distraction – I grew up without a television so that helps a lot. External influence matters, the more the child is exposed to artistic opportunities the more original he/she will be. Secular exposure is not easy to control these days, it has to be a conscious effort to protect the child from wasteful exposure, treat its mind like a video recorder and refrain from the run-of-the-mill commercial elements in the media. For me, fortunately and unfortunately, I had very few same-age peers that I could play or connect with. The loner element is certainly one of the more important ingredients in developing individualism. Thus, an introvert has a higher chance than an extrovert in that aspect. An artist need to enjoy being alone a lot, in order to produce art and the people around need to know when to leave him/her alone to immerse into the creative process without being disturbed or distracted.

Ezyhealth: Please tell us about Helping Angels. How and why did you start it? Poesy: Helping Angels 善行天使 is a movement of compassion based on random acts of kindness that I started on August 30, 2007. This Facebook group is strictly run with four rules – no fundraising, no commercial marketing, no religious evangelising, and no political rallying. The fifth unspoken rule is – no overheads. The first projects started in Kuala Lumpur with just 10 active volunteers turning up at our first events. Gradually, the movement spread to other cities, too, and membership grew to the size it is today. Besides the longer-term projects in Malaysia, we have past and present one-off projects in Taipei, Hong Kong, India, Bali, Singapore, Shanghai, LA, San Francisco, Dakar, Paris, London, Hamburg, Cannes, and Japan. Currently, we only have two long- running programmes in Kuala Lumpur, the Thursday Tutoring programme that assists shelter home children with their schoolwork and ChowKids Art Angel that mentors young refugees to become artists in order to make sellable art to earn some pocket money for their families. The objective of this movement is to be a platform for volunteerism, where participants use their skills, connections, and resources to benefit the underprivileged, at the same time enhance their leadership skills through a kind practice. This group is perfect for those who aspire to give back to society and eventually develop one’s altruistic value to practice living life as a full-time humanitarian. If that is somebody you aspire to be, here is your stepping stone to start somewhere. Make kindness a life practice by starting this valuable hobby.

edited _MG_6457_fin8bEzyhealth: You survived spine tumours and battled paralysis twice. What motivated you to keep going?

Poesy: I was lucky that I was trained in long distance swimming – that really helped with my physiotherapy. I swam many kilometres (1km/day for at least a year) to get myself to walk normally again. My training in ballet and the catwalk experience also played a huge advantage in helping me gain back my deportment. When I turned 28, I was once again faced with more spinal tumours and was again paralysed due to the complicated procedures to remove the tumour mess. This time I did not completely recover, as I lost a major part of the sensation in both my legs. I no longer feel accurately. I don’t feel pain and itch, and I lost my temperature gauge on my right leg, too. These days, I walk with my eyes guiding my legs, while I have to be extra cautious about not causing myself any injury, because I would usually find out after some delay. Through the years of having to deal with these challenges, I found healing through creative endeavours – with my art, writing, music, and welfare projects. Once in a while I get invited to present my story on a platform to motivate a group of bankers, insurance people, and sales people. I am also producing a short animation film to tell my life story. There have been talks about writing books and making movies based on some of my personal stories, but I am still hesitant about it as I rather focus on the future rather than keep talking about my past.

Ezyhealth: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned from that experience, and how do you channel this to your art, for example, or your humanitarian and philanthropic projects? 

Poesy: Big lessons come every day. Life is like reading a huge textbook or a journey through university. Every single moment is a classroom. Whether we pay attention to our lessons or not is another matter. The thing about learning is that, if we do not put our theories to practice, it is of no use. So I am still busy trying to apply all I know on a daily basis, and I cannot say that I have perfected anything as of yet. At the end of the day, how much we get out of life is how much we put into it. I am lucky to have supportive people around me who cheered me on to do more in life despite the several downfalls inspired me to think for the under-privileged. However, we need to put in the work with or without external encouragement. We need to own our lives and be responsible for it. It is a conscious choice to want to lead a nice life, and I want to do it without further delay. Everyone encounters bitter moments once in a while, but we need to develop a reliable mechanism that will help us independently snap out of it.

Ezyhealth: Tell us about the humanitarian projects you’re starting in Singapore. What are the goals you wish to accomplish?

Poesy: There are currently no concrete plans for projects in Singapore as of yet, but while I am here to produce my animation film, I am on a lookout for projects I can do with Helping Angels. Meanwhile, I am interested in learning more about setting up my own scholarship fund around the region. One of my longer term goals is also to set up a shelter home of my own, which will house the scholars under my endowment. Helping Angels is a good stepping stone for young humanitarians to join me with simple welfare work. Personally, I am looking to advance myself in terms of giving with more impact through selling my ‘Rooftop Cats’ series of artwork and my jewellery collection. I noticed that Singapore is a city where many affluent individuals are looking to make a different kind of mark with their wealth, and it is a perfect place for forums and conferences where we inspire each other to use our leadership and influence, to impact change and make the world a better place. I know this means many different things to different people. But for me, I am trying not to reinvent the wheel and find a niche for myself where my giving back is effective, sustainable and much needed, like I did with Helping Angels. With that, I definitely hope to connect with like-minded individuals through the many philanthropy conferences while I am here in this dynamic city.

Ezyhealth: Any beauty, fitness or wellness tips you can share with our readers?
 Go on a vegetarian spell as often as you can. It will not only sharpen your mind, but it will also empower and detoxify your body and help you trim off the extra weight. My most recent stint was a seven-week vegetarian non-alcoholic challenge. I lost weight and became healthier. Alcohol is the major culprit when it comes to our stubborn weight as it contains a lot of sugar. If you are in any major crossroads in your life, try to stay off alcohol. We make better decisions with a relaxed mind. Alcohol is an intoxicant that disturbs the mind more than it relaxes it. Obtaining mental well-being is very important. A fit mind can help you achieve a fit body.

Maripet L. Poso
Posted by ezyhealth on Jun 10 2014. Filed under Cover Stories. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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