NUS ukelele girl finds magic in art

Art aside, she has her ukulele.

Undergraduate Teng Yen Lin, 24, is having a solo exhibition of her paintings at OCBC Art Space, held in collaboration with Art Seasons Gallery.

However, about a year ago, she was perhaps better known for spontaneously strumming the instrument and breaking into Jason Mraz's pop ditty I'm Yours on a university shuttle bus.

A YouTube video of her singing cheerily on the bus and inspiring others to sing along, taken by one of her schoolmates, garnered more than 70,000 views. It led to StarHub filming her ukulele bus gig for its Happy Everywhere TV commercial which aired last year.

Watching the video, one may get the impression that the fourth-year literature student at the National University of Singapore, who was paid for the advertisement, is a free spirit with a happy-go-lucky attitude. In person, however, Teng is more contemplative, taking time to think over her answers before speaking.

She tells Life! that her spontaneous ukulele act was the result of some days spent "getting more in touch with my emotions". On her regular rides on the campus shuttle bus, "I just saw everyone plugged into their headphones or not really talking and I felt very sad, like, 'Why are we not connecting?'" So she sang to break the ice and still performs occasional gigs with the ukulele.

Teng takes a similar approach to art in Searching For Magic, the second solo exhibition for the artist who has been painting and selling her works for close to five years now.

She explains the title: "For the longest time, I have been searching for magic in my own art and in literature.

"There are certain magical moments when I'm studying literature in class, or working on my art, that I really feel I get to the heart of what living is all about. It took a long time before I realised I had to find it within myself."

The Raffles Girls' School and Raffles Junior College alumna had her interest in art sparked in Primary 5. "There was this girl sitting beside me who could draw manga very well. Everyone was like, 'Wow, you're so talented,' so I wanted to learn drawing," she recalls.

Then in art classes in secondary school, she found she had a knack for it. "Things would come to me intuitively. I could understand what balance was, what form was. What I loved and what I was good at came together."

She held her first solo art exhibition, Dancing On Thin Air, at Place, a shophouse privately owned by her family. Her father Teng Jee Hum is an artist and art collector.

Searching For Magic features 32 paintings, one mixed-media artwork and anamorphic artwork, which combines 2-D drawings with 3-D effects, plastered all over the walls.

A recurring motif in her works at OCBC Art Space located at OCBC Centre in Chulia Street is the humble chair.

Teng says chairs inspire her.

"I like their forms. I feel that for me, chairs represent people."

She attributes this to the notion that where people sit represents a subtle power play.

"It's always about this is my space, or this is your space."

Another inspiration is Japanese contemporary art icon Yayoi Kusama.

Teng says: "She just draws a lot of dots or lines repeatedly. The idea of doing something over and over again gives me something to think about. In a way, every day, that's what we do, we live the same day over and over again... There's something a bit ritualistic about it."

Mr Dennis Tan, 45, OCBC Bank's head of consumer financial services here, says the two-year-old OCBC Art Space aims "to create a differentiated customer experience at our branch and to support the local arts scene by promoting the works of local and regional artists".

Emerging artists who have shown their works there include Eugene Soh and Najib Ahmad Bamadhaj.

Be it ukulele singing or art, Teng has a bigger goal in mind: "I would like people to forget themselves. When you're playing the ukulele, you forget yourself. Or when someone is making a fool of himself at the front of the bus, you forget yourself."

View It
Where: OCBC Art Space, OCBC Centre, 65 Chulia Street
When: Till Saturday, 9am to 4.30pm (weekdays), 9 to 11.30am (Saturday)
Admission: Free

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