“I want to be Supergirl,” exclaims Harsyieta Thangappan in delight when asked who she wants to be when she grows up. The little girl has finally warmed up to me. I’m having lunch with her and her family after a long conversation (mostly with the parents) at the Pipal Fine Art in Publika in KL.
The six-year-old had been rather quiet throughout the chat but now, sitting next to me, she gleefully shows me her pearl bracelet and her shiny black shoes with pretty little bows on them. “I love pink, silver and purple,” she randomly continues, her broad smile never leaving her sweet face.
Believe it or not, the youngster is a natural born artist. Or so says her mentor Phillip Wong, an award winning artist and founder of Artseni Gallery. She’s the first child artist under his wings to have a solo art exhibition. Organised by Wong and curated by renowned artist Sivarajah Natarajan, the exhibition titled Harsyieta: Full of Happiness will run until Aug 6 at Pipal Fine Art and showcases 44 of Harsyieta’s abstract artworks.
The exhibition also serves as a special birthday celebration for Harsyieta as she just turned six on July 27.
Entering the gallery, I’m greeted warmly by Wong and Harsyieta’s family. The little girl is clad in a lovely green dress with a pink flower on the waist. She smiles shyly as she munches on some snacks that she packed from home.
“Harsyieta’s a natural born artist, just like me,” begins Wong, as we settle down for our chat. “I was also six-years-old when I started drawing, but at that time, 43 years ago, nobody bothered. I’m not jealous or anything OK?” adds Wong, eyes dancing mischievously. We all laugh.
Suffice to say, this is the reason why he’s organising this exhibition — to inspire and educate people to appreciate art and the artists, regardless of their age.
The first step in nurturing Harsyieta’s talent, says Wong, is to have an exhibition like this one. And the next would be to encourage her to explore new techniques despite the fact that she already has her own style. “Then it’ll be totally up to her whether she wants to accept or not. We can’t force her.”
‘Guide’ is the correct word to use in Harsyieta’s case, says Wong, who adds that he’d normally observe her from afar and allow her to paint from her heart. “She still needs her parents by her side all the time. Very manja (pampered),” he jests.
Humming happily, Harsyieta is sitting on her mother’s lap, oblivious to the ‘adult’ conversation about her that’s going on. Her voice is soft, but I can just about make out the tune she’s humming — it’s True Colours by Cyndi Lauper.
Why do you like painting? I ask the little girl. Her lips purses as if pondering the question seriously. Then, haltingly she replies: “Painting makes me happy.” Clutching her mother’s arm, she adjusts her position. Meanwhile, her doting dad stands close by, busy capturing images of his daughter on his camera phone.
“Harsyieta was exposed to art when she was two. She did finger and foot paintings. Those were her first drawings,” shares mum Satiapriya Sugumaran, who goes on to add that they noticed that there was something special about the drawings, which they couldn’t quite put their finger on. Aside from the tone and the combination of bold colours, Harsyieta also added in subtle shapes and forms amidst the blotches.
Chipping in, Harsyieta’s father Thangappan Krisnamuthi recalls: “We realised that there was certainly something there in her work. And she’d get really excited whenever she paints and the joy would show on face.”
Recognising their daughter’s potential, they enrolled her in some art classes, beginning with one run by artist Abby Zain who led her to do her first live painting in public for the Malaysia Nature Heritage art exhibition in 2015. Since then, Wong has taken Harsyieta under his wings.
For Thangappan and Satiapriya, it’s important to let their child explore her potential on her own. “Our principle is simple. We let Harsyieta be and do whatever interests her. We won’t impose anything on her,” says 39-year-old Thangappan, adding: “When we told a friend about Harsyieta’s talent, he asked us, ‘what are you going to do about it? Are you going to let her talent go to waste?’”
He pauses and then continues: “So we do what we can. We also need guidance so we asked Wong to help. Harsyieta decides everything, from what she wants to paint to the choice of colours to use. It’s 100 per cent her work with no influence from us at all.”
It’s important, says Wong, that her parents create a proper environment at home for Harsyieta to practise her art. And she does have that. In one corner of the family home, there’s a big easel and a table with acrylic paint and everything that an artist needs. Sometimes, the little girl would bring the easel outside and paint.
“Like a true artist,” remarks Wong, who’s also a board member of the National Art Gallery.
The family, who lives in Ampang, Selangor, is just like other normal family. Both Harsyieta’s parents work in the IT industry. All their love they pour into Harsyieta as she’s their only child. “We spend time a lot as a family. We go out, and sometimes we just stay at home and read together. She loves it when I read to her,” shares 37-year-old Satiapriya, adding that apart from painting, her daughter also loves singing, dancing and yoga.
Their daughter, her parents share with much pride, is a bright student. Her paintings were recently selected to be displayed in the art corner. She also aced her Mandarin exam much to her parents’ and teacher’s surprise. She’s also full of happiness, which is rather apt as I later learn that that’s the meaning of her name in Sanskrit.
Also, Harsyieta’s not painting just for the fun of it. Last year, she participated in Artseni Gallery’s charity art exhibition to raise funds for Hospis Malaysia. In April, she joined the charity art session for palliative care awareness at the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur.
“We want to make her understand that although she has everything, she needs to know that there are less fortunate people out there,” shares Satiapriya.
The couple are grateful for the opportunity to have their daughter’s work exposed to the public. What about Harsyieta though? Is she nervous, I ask Satiapriya. “I did ask her whether she’d be okay with people around and the fact that they might want to meet and talk to her. She was okay about it. When she did the live painting in 2015, she was calm. We were nervous!” confesses Satipariya, chuckling.
So how do you feel about having your first solo exhibition? I ask Harsyieta as we near the end of our chat.
“I’m happy and excited also,” she answers sweetly before continuing with her singing.
Smiling, Wong concludes: “She’s truly gifted. I treat her like I treat other artists. The only difference with her is that she’s still small.”
But she doesn’t seem that small to me. With her passion, spirit, and big heart, she just MIGHT be Supergirl.
Harsyieta: Full of Happiness solo art exhibition
Where: Pipal Fine Art, Level G4 (above San Francisco Coffee), Publika Shopping Gallery, 1, Jalan Dutamas 1, Solaris Dutamas, KL
When: Until Aug 6 (Open daily 11am-7pm, closed on Sunday & Monday)