Ghost Orchid, the ‘forgotten flower’, is my first major project, an exclusive website which documents my creations and most of all, gives me a voice to express myself. This website is a dedication to my late beloved parents who may not be physically with me but will always live in my memory.
The launch of my website marked a critical turning point of my life when I turn forty in July 2008. Like my ‘forgotten flower’, my visual stories bridges my fantasy world with the real world, giving me the opportunity to rethink and reflect on my previous experiences, as a closure to a significant chapter of my life before another brand new chapter can begin.
When I first started in the early 90s, being the ‘consistent’ short-listed finalists in the Singapore Young Designers (Fashion) Contest for several years, I presented collection shows in the Singapore Fashion Connection Week organised by the Singapore Economic Trade Board (ETB), sparked interest as young emerging designer. Throughout the 90s, I worked closely with a home dressmaker, designing a private collection under the label ‘Manfred Lai’ which consisted of mainly wedding numbers, graced the aisles of churches in Singapore and overseas. My background in fashion and my understanding in the aesthetics of fashion have certainly influenced that way I express myself but I do not consider myself a fashion designer and my creations are not inhibited by fashion trends and mess appeal.
After moving to Sydney in 2001, I discovered a sense of delight in expressing myself through printmaking when I was undertaking my further studies in Art Education and Art Administration at COFA/UNSW. It was in the National Art School that I had intimately acquainted with the solar-plate printmaking technique to capture the complexity of my emotions and the chaotic state of my inner world. The body of works that I have created during this period remain very special in my heart.
The impetus for embarking on my personal projects arises as an outlet to my anxiety to explore and understand more about the ‘stranger’ in me. Therefore, the obsession with my ‘self-identity’ is the trigger to my inspiration. In search of myself in relation to the ‘reality’ that I am living in, what is ‘reality’ to me today may not the same as tomorrow. Our lives and our reality change as we move on in life. As I become older, I understand myself and also the people in my life better. Ghost Orchid has grown and become as platform to connect with people and to inspire people to explore their own passion in life.
The ‘forgotten flower’ is an orchid of my imagination, a ghost in my mind and an object of my identity. There is a pronounced duality within the layers of the images of the ‘forgotten flower’, perhaps the most apparent are :- ‘fantasy’ or ‘reality’, ‘subjective’ or ‘objective’, ‘human’ or ‘flower’. In the series of ‘Self-portraits’ sketches, the distorted human form as I have perceived myself, merged with the organic floral forms. In my latest interpretation of the ‘forgotten flower’, the motif of the Ghost Orchid is transformed into batik textiles. I have also deliberately chosen to emphasize the organic forms, their immersed energy and richness in textures, echoing the complexities of my ‘reality’. At a personal level, the poetic rhythms of the vivid linear qualities within the composition of these images map out the destiny of my life, and articulate my sediments about the purpose of my existence, like the life lines on my palms.
Reality is just another transient part of our life, as we live and we also forget how we used to live. As I have mentioned earlier, what is reality today, may not be the same as tomorrow. Like a ghost, reality seems to fade away with time… amongst the fragments of my imagination, clouds of the ‘forgotten flower’ are precisely momentary, representing just a moment of truth in my reality. Perhaps the purpose of its existence is to fade away quietly, not because of its insignificance but it is just not chosen to be remembered.
The ‘forgotten flower’ imitates the beautiful orchids, reminiscence of those which my late beloved mom loved:- her favourite flower for any occasions, especially prayer offerings to the ancestry temple and the ‘Kuan Yin’, the Goddess of Mercy. My mom’s tailored-made ‘samfoo’ (sometimes spelt ‘samfu’) with floral prints, especially the one with the orchid motifs which she wore repeatedly, was one of the gifts from my dad that she treasured.
Orchids are not only rooted to the memories of my mother but also the national icon of the country of my birth. Now living overseas, I have grown to appreciate their beauty and character, enchanted by their unique poise and sense of sophistication in form and colour. Those that linger on deep within me, are not the ‘chosen’ species, specially cultivated and institutionalised. They are the ‘forgotten flower’ that exist and fade like a ghost.
Almost like a ritual, these ghostly images of my purest fantasy continue to dance in my mind, perhaps to celebrate the passion of living or lament the vulnerability and immorality of life. The ‘forgotten flower’ cannot exists in captivity, only in the wild, dangerous, mysterious…private or perhaps in a place that no one has been.