Indigenous painter captures inner beauty of her people and love of nature in realism style

Leny Maknoh’s portraits are more than works of art with pencil, colour pencil and graphite.

She is making a bold statement, showcasing the beauty of indigenous culture and people, particularly her Temuan tribe in Negri Sembilan, in her realism genre.

Leny wants us to take a closer look at the faces of the indigenous people and go beyond the aesthetic appeal of her art to feel their inner strength and struggles.

She also adds her unique touch by drawing natural elements like leaves, animals, flowers and even insects in bright colour.

“I want to convey my appreciation of nature, through art,’’ says Leny, who is based at her parent’s hometown in Kampung Guntur, Batu Kikir, Negri Sembilan.

”The beauty of every face. The emotion and stories behind the eyes.

“The traditions we have inherited and the realism, which I can achieve with pencil,“ she added.

What inspired you to be an artist?

A desire to create something. Having the freedom to do what I love every day and being able to exercise my creativity and to inspire and delight people. It’s the joy of creating and sharing art.

When I was six, I really loved colouring books and I won colouring contests. Then, I started drawing cartoons by copying it using tracing paper and later, learned to sketch without the paper.

I admired my dad drawing portraits of the family. Something that started as a hobby slowly grew into a passion.

Later, realism drawing caught my attention. Impressed by what a pencil could do, I challenged myself to draw and it changed my life.

I have been drawing ever since. My first exhibition was in 2010 at White Box in Publika, Solaris Dutamas, with other artists (We Speak art group exhibition).

What attracted you to portraits?

I really like the individual expressions in every unique face. Through my art, I wish to let the viewer feel what an expression makes me feel.

The expression is through the eyes of my subject – the intensity of the gaze makes people wonder about the story behind it. It’s actually up to the viewer to describe what he or she sees in my artworks.

Mostly, my artworks are about the beauty of indigenous culture and our struggle in life as indigenous people. I also like to draw animals, plants, flowers or something that looks alive, like a splash in a coffee cup.

How has your life in the kampung impacted your work?

I was born and grew up in Kuala Lumpur as my parents worked at the Orang Asli Hospital in Gombak. I have experienced many challenges while trying to fit into city life because people always looked at us differently - as orang asli.

When my parents retired and returned to my hometown, I decided to follow them and try to have a deeper understanding and appreciation for my culture and, as much as possible, to share it with others through my drawings.

We live near to nature and I really love it. Most of my drawings include flowers or plants.

How does Temuan culture inspire your art?

Temuan women are very independent and strong, like my mum and grandma and because of that, I always focus on drawing portraits of indigenous women to honour their hard work in raising families and helping husbands.

I have used face painting patterns applied by the indigenous people from a long time ago.

I usually put them into my drawings so that people can see how unique our culture is. We believe in the spirit of nature so I always mix nature in my works. The flower is also a symbol of beauty.

What is your hope for indigenous art?

In every piece of artwork we create, each has its own story about our people, history, traditions and culture. There’s a bright future for indigenous art and artists if we preserve our traditions.

I hope the young generation will continue to keep our culture alive. I also hope there will be more indigenous artists and more platforms for us to share our art with the world.

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