#TheGoodWomen: Cindy Neo – Art Maker, Tombstone Tourist, Cancer Survivor

While looking for Cindy’s art studio, I found myself staring at flights of stairs wedged between automobile and hardware shops and questioned if I had gotten the right place. As I began climbing the stairs, I got increasingly doubtful, climbing past floors of mysterious offices.

But when I reached the top floor and gazed upon a beautiful piece of acrylic-pour art, I knew I had found Room To Imagine. Cindy opened the door and warmly welcomed me into her cosy art studio, and it felt like a wonderful scenery that has come to greet me after a long climb up.

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“New Chapter”

Cindy describes the studio as a new chapter of her life. “Working from a home-based studio is very different from having a dedicated space.” she explains, looking around her studio contentedly as she talked about how she now has more room to create larger pieces of works and experiment more. 

“Becoming a full-time artist wasn’t easy. I’m really lucky to have a supportive partner who always encourages me to just go for it..” she gratefully adds.

Origins

When I asked about how Room To Imagine came to be, Cindy told me that she was diagnosed with cancer in 2017 and left her job to undergo treatments. While recuperating, she decided to revisit her passions – specifically in the Arts.

“I realize I was becoming very impatient with people around me, and just want to be quick and ‘efficient’ all the time.”

Cindy said, referring to the effects that her hectic lifestyle had on her. Whilst undergoing treatments, she found painting really therapeutic. At the same time, having the time to slow down and think sparked a desire in her to do something meaningful. Armed with her past work experiences in marketing and love for the arts, she took a leap of faith to pursue her vision. This is how Room To Imagine slowly came to be.

So what is Room To Imagine?

“Therapy.” Cindy responded with certainty when I asked her. She explains that it’s therapy for both herself and the participants. “There is a sense of satisfaction when people walk in feeling like they cannot do art but leave feeling more confident about themselves.” she continues,

“This is what makes it feel meaningful, to change what people think about themselves. What they can and cannot do.”

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The studio has also allowed her to meet people from many different walks of life. Her youngest students were a pair of 4-year-old twins while her oldest student was an 83-year-old leisure painter, who came for class despite not speaking a word of English and never having tried abstract art before.

“You’re never too old or young to learn something.”

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Cancer Advocate

Having been a patient before, Cindy occasionally volunteers at chemotherapy suites to serve biscuits and milo as well as provide the patients with some company. She sees herself in a position where she can help people who are in the same predicament as she was before.

Furthermore, she talks about how afraid of chemotherapy she was in the past, and volunteering in these suites gives her the chance to overcome her fear by observe the patients undergoing it.

Her love for cemeteries

Cindy told me she does not have many other interests when I asked her about what else she enjoyed doing besides making art. That was until she told me,

“I actually really like to visit cemeteries, especially when I travel”

I stared at her, jaw-dropped, before chuckling in disbelief that she could ever think that she was boring. I was taken aback that such a calm and composed lady like herself would be a tombstone tourist. But the way she described cemeteries soon made me question my stereotypes against the usually creepy and gloomy space.

“It’s like an uncurated museum”

“There’s a lot of culture and history.” she explains to me, giving the examples of differences between a traditional Chinese tombstone and one of a colonial master. She also excitedly tells me about how she once went to Penang on a solo-trip and while visiting the cemeteries there, discovered a surprising link to the Bukit Brown cemetery in Singapore.

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Takeaways

When you meet Cindy, she’s a calm and graceful individual who unexpectedly packs a punch. Learning about her cancer journey and her interests surprised me a lot, and inspired me a lot. She went through a very tough part of her life but didn’t let it hinder her. In fact, it pushed her to pursue her own passions.

“There is no one path that is set for you that you must follow”

She says that people often limit themselves more than others do, and this is what hinders them from living their best lives. If I’ve learnt anything from Cindy, it’s that we have the power to do whatever makes us happy.

“Don’t be afraid to experiment, just have fun.”

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