We recently spent an entire day – a trip from Taiping to Kuala Lumpur, in fact – with artist Tya who shared with us her personal story.

It was such a powerful story that we were blown away by her tenacity and spirit. Realising that her story can possibly empower others like her, we obtained her permission to share it with you.

In this story, you’ll also come across some methods which Tya utilizes to manage her mental and emotional well-being. Her methods, however, would only work for some of you. More than anything, we encourage seeking support from befrienderskl in the event you feel like you could use a listening ear or a shoulder to lean on.

You’re not alone. *hugs*

The Accident

In 2007, Tya woke up on a hospital bed to discover that she had been severely injured in a car crash. She was the unwitting passenger who was asleep when the car lost control.

Her face was covered in bandages as she had shattered parts of her skull and broken various other bones in her body. She was lucky to be alive.

Just before that fateful incident, the then 38 year old was leading the life of a simple working mom to a five year old girl.

Her husband at the time was from Portugal and had adored her for her good looks.

In the days after the accident, Tya underwent multiple surgeries and was even comatose for a short period. Her body would acquire nerve damages that affect her movements to this day. She would battle memory loss issues that persisted for years and soon also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

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After being involved in a car accident, Tya’s physical and mental health eroded as her marriage crumbled and her only child was separated from her.

Although the physical harm she sustained was critical enough, it was the events that unfolded in her personal life that became the hardest scars to heal.

Her then husband had become estranged; unable to accept that his once lovely bride was no longer as youthful or pleasant to the eye.

He asked for a divorce and took custody of their daughter who did not have Malaysian citizenship, being born overseas.

“Since then, I only get to see her once a year for four weeks during the summer holidays which is when she visits from the UK.

“But over the years, even my relationship with my daughter has also become alienated and I’m now fighting very hard to regain it back,” says Tya.

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A collage of abstract art that Tya made in 2017.

Hallucinations and Healings

To recuperate after the accident, Tya, whose real name is Sathaya Bama, returned to her hometown in Taiping.

“I lived with my mother, who has since passed on from cancer. My daughter used to visit us there and in 2012, when she was about 10 years old, she found me making art in a hallucinatory state.

“She said I didn’t respond when she tried to talk to me and I was singing in Italian and muttering in Chinese. This was highly unusual so she started to take a video recording of me.”

After making the artwork, Tya went back to sleep and when her daughter showed her the painting she had created, she didn’t recognize it.

“I thought my daughter had made the painting because I was someone who failed art in school. Only when she showed me the video of myself that I realised it was my own handiwork.”

Tya’s daughter then submitted the artwork to an online portal and was well received. This inspired Tya to start painting consciously and she started to learn techniques on her own, dabbling fluid art and collage to create mix media pieces.

As fancy art tools such as a canvas could be pricey, Tya took to painting on discarded items that she could find around the house and in her neighbourhood.

She painted on cake boards, styrofoam panels and even old furniture. She became quite adept at making crafts from recycled materials.

“Refurbishing discarded goods was symbolic for me because it felt like I was giving new life to things by attaching to it a renewed value.”

Tya also dabbled in photography and received awards in competitions despite being an amateur.

“I posted some of my work online and was approached to do exhibitions. This spurred me to continue expressing myself creatively,” she said.

Since then, she has submitted six of her pieces for evaluation in Italy, having their worth appraised to be between RM7,000 to RM18,000. She has also sold some of her pieces online, further encouraging her journey as an artist.

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Lost Spirits In The In between World, watercolour on paper by Tya Gem.

Empowering special needs

Tya’s living room in Taiping is now wall to wall covered in her artworks. She believes that the act of channeling her creative side has become the healing process that assisted her journey towards well being.

Each piece also has a compelling story that relates to her struggle in recovering from physical and psychical pain.

Art is very therapeutic for me because it lets me shift focus away from pain and the negative things that happened in my life.

“It can take me a very long time to do art, my hands get tired due to my nerve damages but I continue to do it as a physiotherapy for my fingers and necessary meditation for my soul.”

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Tya with children from Mosha village in Culcutta, where she had visited in 2013 for a photography expedition. Pix Credit: Avijit Bose

Since her accident, Tya has battled mental breakdowns that have affected her ability to hold down a job. She still experiences mental breakdowns from time to time which is why she holds a card that identifies herself as a person with special needs.

Many who meet her however, often question why she should, since outwardly, she does not display any physical disability.

This led her to join the Malaysian Invisible Illnesses Association (MIIA) to raise awareness for people with unseen or less conspicuous conditions. Since becoming a committee member, Tya has been promoting art as a therapy with others facing similar predicaments.

2016 onwards, she has been reaching out to members in various community groups including orphanages, elderly homes and children or adults with special needs to conduct art bonding therapy sessions.

She likes to organise activities where every person gets a chance to explore and share their talents.

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Tya’s living room is filled with her artworks.

“To me art bonding therapy is bonding with yourself; finding joy within yourself, bringing out the pureness within onto a blank canvas and turning it into something beautiful.”

Due to her passion for music and dance choreography, Tya also sometimes incorporates it into her painting sessions. She calls it an abstract mix media energy healing session.

“When I teach art to people with limited mobility, I can see that they are excited and interested to know how I make my painting. I started to add music and dance moves in the act as a way to engage and entertain them.”

CADS Enhancement Centre Malaysia

Having been empowered through creative expression and trusting in the healing nature of art, Tya has found a driving purpose to share and cultivate artistic expression among the vulnerable community.

Since September, she has volunteered to work at the CADS Enhancement Centre Malaysia in Jalan Duta to introduce art programs and activities for the members. She hopes to develop initiatives that would enable the centre to secure more sustainable funding.

“I am most impressed by CADS for teaching the members essential life skills, such as cooking, counting and even doing business. These are important capabilities that will allow them to live a more independent life. I share this vision and hope to inspire them further through art.”

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Tya painted this after seeing a vision of it in one of her dreams.

Last year, after losing her mother to cancer, Tya decided to screen test herself and received the unfavourable diagnosis of early stage cervical cancer.

Despite this, she plans to continue working and someday undertake an artist residency at the Barcelona Academy of Art in Spain.

“I know cancer can be debilitating, I watched my mum suffer through it. But before the illness takes control of my life, I’m determined to fulfill my goals. 

“I also want my daughter to know that despite my condition, I can stand on my own two feet and I hope that she can be proud of me.

Tya is currently selling her artworks and is hoping to accumulate RM50,000 to fund her studies, accommodation and visa in Spain. If you’d like to give Tya a leg up in achieving her goals, you can contribute to her crowdfunding effort or contact her directly by emailing to metamorphosis.artgallery@yahoo.com.

*** All images in this piece were supplied by Tya. 

Follow some of Tya’s work on her Facebook and Instagram and share with us your own inspiring story at editors@eksentrika.com Here’s another post you might enjoy reading. 

“I was paralysed waist down when I re-discovered music,” Endee Ahmad

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