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CHIA KOON’S WEN : The Calligraphic Expressions of Ong Chia Koon.

Tan Sei Hon

Oct 2023


Melaka-born Ong Chia Koon (b.1972) is a KL-based calligrapher and painter known for his unique approach to Chinese calligraphy. He actively exhibits locally and abroad and has had 15 solo exhibitions to date. 

Chia Koon’s calligraphic works posed certain challenges to the more conservative quarters who were taught to expect Chinese calligraphy to remain in its traditional form and format, adhering faithfully to conventional styles, repeating the usual paeans to the usual subject matters. As a formally trained calligrapher, Chia Koon is well acquainted with the scripts used in traditional Chinese calligraphy namely the Seal script, Official script, Cursive script, Running script, and Open script. However, what had reinforced the unorthodox trajectory that Chia Koon took towards Chinese calligraphy many years ago was his visit to the famous Yin Xu Museum in Henan, China in 2006. Significantly, among the numerous artifacts on displayed were oracle bone scripts, the earliest form of Chinese writing that were already in use 2000 years before the common era. This script, known as Chiaku Wen or jiǎgǔwén are inscribed on animal bones and tortoise shells used in divinity rituals. Though already simplified and standardized, it was not governed by a rigid system like much of the scripts in used today.
From then on, Chia Koon started to experiment with the oracle script in his work, sometimes in combination with other more established scripts, resulting in dynamic and even illegible pieces of writing looking more like abstract art than Chinese calligraphy.

Chia Koon innovates in terms of styles, composition while ensuring the content of what he writes are meaningful to him on a personal level. That is why he chose pop or folk song lyrics, modern quotes and aphorisms, statements, and even thoughtful postings on FB that resonate with him intellectually and emotionally. He is constantly looking for something new and different to inspire his practice. 
Though Chia Koon believes that there is still much that we do not know about the early history of Chinese calligraphy, to ensure that this art form will continue to be appreciated and practiced by succeeding generations, it is important to evolve with the times instead of constantly harking back to the past.

Early this year, Chia Koon suffered a minor stroke which left his right arm paralyzed. Though he is slowly recovering with a change in lifestyle while undergoing physiotherapy, it is undeniable that this disease has affected his productivity in terms of his practice as a calligrapher. Still, the ever-optimistic Chia Koon adapts and soldiers on, seeing this as an opportunity to reconsider strokes and forms that were aesthetically less pleasing or to discover newer approaches to be used in his future calligraphic works. Chia Koon is adamant that he continues to practice his art for ‘there is nothing more worse than to give up’.

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