Never one to give up in the face of adversity, Poesy Liang continues to notch up remarkable achievements, writes Nur Zarina Othman
Two adjectives come to mind when I first meet Poesy Liang. Extraordinary and exceptional.
Paralysed from the waist down due to a rare spine tumour diagnosed when she was a teenager, the gutsy 41-year-old can do much more than the regular person. She’s an artist, writer, poet, composer, multidisciplinary designer, jeweller, entrepreneur and humanitarian.
WALKING WITH HER EYES
“You can barbecue my right leg and I wouldn’t feel a thing,” said Poesy, laughing. She recalls only realising she had injured her leg when she saw that it was bleeding, having greatly reduced ability to sense pain, itch, temperature and position.
She was only 17 when she was diagnosed with a rare spine tumour which left her paralysed from waist down. She then had surgery to remove the tumour and was told she would never walk again. But that did not deter her, she got back on her feet with help from therapy and family.
When she turned 28, the tumours came back. Poesy had another surgery, which was more complicated than the first. She was faced with a more challenging paralysis this time. Like the first time, she started long-distance swimming to regain control of her leg movements.
She also underwent a CyberKnife surgery in 2006, this time in the USA Stanford Hospital, to reduce the risks of tumour regrowths.
I ask if she feels any sensation in her leg. “A million pins and needles,” she says. An ordinary person, when faced with this uncomfortable tingling or prickling sensation, would not be able to walk until it goes away. When walking with this extreme case of “pins and needles”, you will not be able to feel your feet touching the ground.
Poesy has to live with this all her life. She watches the floor when she takes a step. “I have to walk with my eyes now,” she says.
She has been seen zipping around on her mobility scooter through Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, Hong Kong, UK, Paris, Berlin, Switzerland, New York and Tokyo and was often stopped by people with requests for pictures, who later posts them up on their social media and even finding their way into foreign newspapers.
The scooter was bought to be shared with her Taiwanese mother, an acupuncturist and Chinese traditional herbalist, who recently had a hip replacement surgery.
Calligraphy is Poesy's forte. At 6 years old, she started training in carving Chinese stone seal, Chinese calligraphy, Chinese landscape painting, Chinese watercolours, piano, ballet and swimming.
The former student of Bukit Bintang Girl's School had her art exhibited for the first time when she was just 11. At 14, she was the face of Levi's Strauss television commercial as the 501 girl for Malaysia and Singapore.
Her training in calligraphy was also applied in her infamous Rooftop Cats aka RTC series. Her affinity towards cats is also reflected in her drawings with another popular series, Cupcake Twins.
Coincidentally, a tuxedo cat named Harry Putter who uncannily resembles her early black & white RTC series appeared outside her gate one day. She later adopted another two white kittens - Miss China & Dot Dot aka Cupcake Twins, who looks just like her paintings too.
In 2015, she had her first pop-up art gallery in Kuala Lumpur for 18 months and it proved to be good move for her. An art collector proposed for her to continue the gallery for another 18 months but she decided to focus on pursuing her art journey internationally.
During an ad hoc singing performance in May, Poesy fell after her stage. She broke the fall using her right (painting) hand and it was so badly injured that she was unable to paint for almost two months.
Refusing to accept defeat, this woman with a determination of steel decided to take matters into her left hand literally, which resulted in the birth of her Left Hand Art series, a series of drawings she did using her left hand.
She has been keeping herself very busy, with various art projects all over the world, evolving her pop-up gallery to move back to her production space and conducting programmes under the Helping Angels movement to promote compassion. She just returned from her annual tour that covers Europe and USA each summer.
She updates her followers through social media, WhatsApp broadcasts and shared news of herself at the United Nations General Assembly in New York during her calligraphy performance that was the opening act of the Novus Summit in July, amongst other exciting encounters in her trails across the world.
While she is away, her cats enjoy their summer in a garden space that Poesy built for them named Yakuza Green Cattery, within the premise of her art production house Poesy’s Proverbs which was formerly her family home.
HEART OF GOLD
Poesy recalls being contacted by a girl from China who saw Poesy scooting around in Art Basel Hong Kong. The girl had a lot of trouble walking with a frame and looked to Poesy for inspiration as she seeked a breakthrough with her own disability.
Poesy made arrangements to meet the girl in Singapore to help her identify the most suitable scooter to get and gave her mobility training using the public facilities around the city.
Poesy founded a Facebook group called Helping Angels, which gathered volunteers in over 10 countries to engage in random kindness projects. One of the Malaysian projects gathered volunteers around Klang Valley to help shelter home children with school work.
Helping Angels was set up in 2006 with four guiding principles: No fund-raising, no commerce, no politics and no religion.
The Helping Angels introduced another programme called Tuesday Art Angels, now in its fourth year. For this, Helping Angels work with a selected bunch of marginalised/refugee children of Yayasan Chow Kit. The program mentors the young refugee who are good at art to produce pop-up greeting cards which offers volunteering artists as well as the young artists an allowance for the work produced.
In 2011, she created an art project under Helping Angels titled the Bald Empathy Movement and took it to 10 countries. The project aimed to bring a positive highlight to those suffering a loss of dignity due to premature hair loss or chronic illnesses. It also advocates wholesome lifestyles and raises empathy towards survivors and patients suffering from ill health.