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All About My Mother

Posted by on Wednesday, 18 March, 2009 at 2:11 PM. Filed under: Gallery

ARTERI’s ‘Documents’ are art projects or art historical musings for the blog in the form of photo-essays, videos and writings.



These are a selection of old and more recent prints I found featuring my mother, with the exception of one image.



Here she is standing along a small road in Pudu, trying to trace back some greasy remnants of our lives in the mid-80s. In the rented room, I was raised to become a canto-pop loving child with the help of a record store downstairs – my parents claim I could sing Danny Chan hits at the age of three. In this photo, it is easy to imagine my mother saying in Cantonese, “Fai dit yeng la, hou yit ah” (faster take, very hot ah).



A picture taken in Mantin (Seremban), with my maternal grandmother in the background. Many of my growing-up years were spent in this tiny kampung, where the nights are air-con cold and the daytime sun is only good for siestas or baths in the river that cuts through the settlement. My grandfather became senile by the time I got into secondary school and passed away a few days before Princess Diana’s death, except his episode was much calmer: after a breakfast of soda biscuits/coffee, and an outdoors haircut, sitting on his favourite rattan chair a few steps away from where this photograph was taken. Of all his children — five daughters and one son — my grandmother said it is my mother who was the kindest to him during the late stages of his senility.



When RapidKL released the new fancier busses in 2006, they had a free run all over the city where commuters can sit as long as they want to be familiarised with the routes. My mother decided it was a good chance to revisit KL without the stress of driving. Throughout the rides, it was easy to tell she was struck with nostalgia — she kept pointing at new constructions, or old landmarks, saying things have changed so much since she was a teenager looking for a living in the middle of Imbi.



Mama and my father eating in Geylang, Singapore. Three decades ago, she was a young girl on the island looking for a job. Somehow she found her talent along the way — the ability to sew.



Once during the hungry ghost month I decided join her with my camera for the food offering ritual at a clearing near our flat. She normally provides the spirits with pasar malam (night market) biscuits and fruits on little red trays. Disappointingly in the prints (maybe also to my relief), there wasn’t anyone else besides herself.



Here is a photograph taken of her rushing to a wedding dinner. I helped her pair an asymmetrical 80s blouse with an XXL black cotton flower brooch on her upper right shoulder (made with fabric scraps for my own prom accessory after my Form 5, Secondary School). I feel she could have done much more with her hair like some regular party aunties – but looking back at the photo, the colourful hair-clip is actually quite amusingly inappropriate.



Mama and her younger sister who was a Diamond Water Filter saleswoman, but who recently decided it was easier to take up a regular office job. The ‘miracle water’ apparently did not cure her son’s skin problems… though she has told us before, if it weren’t for Diamond Water the scabs would have been a lot worst. She persuaded my mother into getting one for the flat. When my mother visits me in my rented room now, she would bring about five litres of the filtered water for my consumption, often against my very stern protest: a woman her age should not carry such heavy loads, poor shoulders. But then I understand: I am really just her only child.



An image taken of me when I was little by my mother in our old terrace house in Cheras, with a sick kitten that disappeared some time later. I don’t believe he felt no love and ran away — it is either he was stolen or he met an unfortunate accident. I was deeply saddened but my parents didn’t have anymore cats after that. In 2008, I was lucky to have co-adopted a wonderfully naughty tortoise-shell cat with a friend living nearby. Her name is Polat.



I dressed her up one Chinese New Year and made her hold a stalk of fake cherry blossom.

These days I don’t live with her anymore, but we talk on the phone often. When people say they miss their mother’s cooking, nothing can be more true for me.


Jun Kit is a photographer and designer based in Kuala Lumpur.

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  1. Felix says
    18/03/2009 2:44 PM

    I really like this very much!

  2. A Friend of Calvin says
    18/03/2009 3:00 PM

    two thumbs up (:

  3. Sharon Chin says
    18/03/2009 3:24 PM

    These are absolutely gorgeous. Thanks Jun Kit, so great to have your mum on ARTERI.

  4. Zephy says
    18/03/2009 3:45 PM

    I looove the 1st pic!
    So charged with emotions!

    I’ll tag it with something like..

    “We know that even the strongest woman is in need of great love.”


  5. mikey says
    18/03/2009 4:49 PM

    as for the cat, its a norm for them, that when they r terribly sick, they will go into hiding, so that the owner dont have to go thru the trauma of them passing away, few of my frens experienced this before.

  6. Lydia Chai says
    18/03/2009 5:56 PM

    This is a wonderful piece. Looking forward to more writing from Jun Kit!

  7. Lydia Chai says
    18/03/2009 5:57 PM

    Jun Kit, did you use expired film stock for any of them?

  8. Jun Kit says
    18/03/2009 6:13 PM

    Thanks, commenters!

    Lydia, I didn’t consciously use expired stock, but I tend to buy a few extra rolls (bigger discount sometimes) and keep them in a non-optimum environment for up to a few month (e.g. my hot humid room) before I even start shooting with them.

    The printed result is always a combination of film quality + the chemicals and paper the photo centre uses… and a lot of times, the technician’s personal taste in colour tone (some think a very bluish tone is good, etc).

  9. admin says
    18/03/2009 6:28 PM

    Jun kit, you have to do another series soon for us :D – Simon

  10. amanda says
    18/03/2009 7:12 PM

    Your mum is just like my mum!

  11. Pauly Wauly says
    18/03/2009 7:48 PM

    i like the second photo…… taking a picture with an umbrella (under the hot sun) must have been your idea :P but then again, she had a matching blouse so the chance could not be lost :)

  12. Calv says
    18/03/2009 11:03 PM

    Excellent article.

    Says what I wanted to say about my mommy too.


  13. Fahmi says
    18/03/2009 11:11 PM

    By far one of the best articles on Arteri yet! :D

  14. Vernon A E says
    18/03/2009 11:32 PM

    Thanks for sharing Jun Kit … a VERY nice piece.
    The captions are endearing, and suggest a wonderful bond between you. I hope this is the start of a larger work because I want to know more about this life.

  15. Laurent says
    19/03/2009 4:45 AM

    Very nice indeed, congratulations.

  16. Michael says
    19/03/2009 5:40 AM

    you write so lightly – cat stepping over ornaments on a mantlepiece – alternative title might have been “Camera as part of the family” – did Mama see

  17. HairyBerry says
    19/03/2009 9:57 AM

    To kids who grew up in the early 80s, this is one post that we can all relate to. Such amazing storytelling. I am eagerly awaiting your next post!

  18. Johnny says
    20/03/2009 1:58 PM

    nice work Jun Kit.

    reminds me somewhat of the heart-wrenching piece “Days with my Father” by Phillip Toledano.


    look forward to seeing more photoessays like this in the future.

  19. wasup says
    05/11/2009 10:14 AM

    same same but different


  20. Lanny Brehaut says
    31/01/2010 7:13 AM

    OH crud! i just typed a nice comment and as soon as i submitted it it come up blank! Please tell me it worked properly? I do not want to sumit it again if i do not have to! Either the blog bugged out or i am just stuipd :), the latter doesnt surprise me lol

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