Over the long, winding course of a human lifetime, we all experience any number of metamorphoses. As Malaysian artist Liew Mei Toong sees it, these processes — manifesting psychologically as much, if not more, than physically —can be traced by elements of the natural world: water, wood, and stone.

Though we may begin pure and free-flowing, and take the shape of our containers, in time, we will put down roots and grow layer upon protective layer around ourselves. Towards the end, however weathered by the flow of time, we will have learned to withstand life’s pressures and hardships, with the resilience to stand on our own.

Incorporating these natural elements, Metamorphosis explores the interiority and universality of growth and transformation. A popular meditative practice, Mei Toong also uses the zentangle method in her depictions of water and wood to effect images that seem to ripple and reverberate with life.

Cocooned figures in the Death-Rebirth series offer a gentle reminder that “all of us will experience metamorphosis several times during our lives”, and that the inevitable seismic shifts in our sense of identity throughout need not be fearsome, or faced alone. A similar reassurance is carried through by the Tree Spirit series of painted works and a wooden sculpture of three sinewy trunks growing out of a larger one. Each bears the marks of years past and bends this way and that, even if only ever so slightly, as reminders of the non-linearity and continuity of growth. In Petrification, Mei Toong reflects on the enduring significance of stones in the annals of man’s evolution and survivance, while The Star, inspired by tarot cards, looks to the future and its promises of coming to one’s own.

Her first solo exhibition at Galerie Stephanie, Metamorphosis captures Mei Toong’s fascination with the psychological underpinnings and quandaries of modernity. Connectivity — with oneself as well as one’s surroundings — is central to the works of Mei Toong, apparent in her imaging of non-descript, often identical figures in repose, huddled together, embracing and embraced by elements of the natural world.

notes by Gabrielle Gonzales