Namiko: Child of the South Sea

After September 11, Namiko Chan Takahashi, who was living in New York, started questioning her goal in life. During one of her rare moments of uncertainty, she shared her thoughts with her boyfriend in Singapore and told him she wanted to quit painting. Her boyfriend explained to her that art plays a greater role in society in times of crisis and encouraged her to continue with her art lessons.

It was probably the most painful period in Namiko’s life. She was then studying painting at the renowned Art Students League of New York. On that fateful morning, she was travelling to school in the subway on the Manhattan Bridge. ‘I was passing by the World Trade Center, envying the lives of office workers in the World Trade Center buildings. Later that day, when I learnt of the tragic event, my initial thought was that World War III had begun.’ As the transportation system came to a halt, Namiko could not make her way home. A supermarket that she and her friend visited that day was crowded with people snapping up all the groceries on the shelves. ‘Many of us in New York felt very hurt and violated by the inhuman incident’, she remembers. ‘However, being resilient, it did not take long for New Yorkers to continue with their daily lives. A few days later, artists were seen painting in the vicinity of Ground Zero.’

With her boyfriend’s moral support, Namiko continued painting. Since the age of four, Namiko has been drawing and she has always known that painting is her calling in life. However, she first had to fulfil the wishes of her parents — to qualify as a lawyer. ‘Although I knew from the beginning of my legal education that I was not going to practise law, the study of law was not a painful process.’ Having fulfilled her parents’ wishes, she was then free to pursue her first love — painting. After a short working stint, she spent three years studying art in New York, with the support of the National Arts Council in Singapore, under the personal tutelage of well-known American artists.

Bubbly and vivacious by nature, Namiko had an enriching experience studying at her own pace and time through a flexible curriculum in New York. Being a person who works endlessly on a project until it is completed, she painted diligently every day. ‘There are certain Singaporean values inculcated within every Singaporean which cannot be removed no matter where she is transported to’, she said with a laugh.

Looking at film slides encapsulating her art pieces and hearing her explain her works, I admit that I could not understand many of the art concepts or the names of renowned painters that she rattled off effortlessly. However, I could appreciate the happiness and excitement that was emanating from her and affecting me in a similar way.

When her three-year stint ended, Namiko left the art capital and returned home. Her love for home and her loved one in Singapore made her decide to practise art here, she said in exhilaration as she showed me her engagement ring.

A student of realism art, she now paints primarily portraits. In her studio at home, she spends most of her waking hours painting. ‘It is hard work but I do it because I love it.’ To Namiko, art is like air and food which nourishes her soul. She is not alone when painting. She is surrounded by ideas and inspiration. ‘No, artists are not inspired all the time. During the uninspiring moments, I spend the time painting the background of my art piece.’ Art, to Namiko, is a study of the workings of the world and the nature of human beings in it. She recounts with great pride how she was given the rare privilege of being permitted to be a copyist of the works displayed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A lady with many talents, Namiko is also a trained ballet and modern jazz dancer, as well as a designer of intricate jewellery, a costume designer and a make-up artist. She participated in a dance performance at The Esplanade Theatres on the Bay’s opening festival recently. She explained that mistakes are more visible in dance than in painting. Namiko held her debut solo exhibition in December 2001 entitled ‘My Life as an Artist in Context with the Will of God’ which featured expressionist oil paintings completed during her stint in New York. Since her return to Singapore, her first commissioned work was to paint a portrait of Kit Chan for Chan’s latest album, ‘Dreamscape’.

Few people are able to discover their calling in life. Even fewer can dedicate their lives to their calling. If one is able to do both, I think he is very fortunate as he has discovered the meaning of his life. I agree with Namiko that we need God’s help in this pursuit.

Rajan Chettiar