Lianhe Zaobao 联合早报
19 May 2021
By Zhang Heyang
Translation by Dariush Robertson
28-year-old harpist, Laura Peh 白佳玉, started her business last year and established a publishing house that mainly publishes picture books for children. She believes that art can help cultivate the emotional intelligence and creativity of future protagonists.
Let the Beauty of Art inspire Children
Laura Peh believes that imagination and empathy inspired by art will be the most valuable abilities of future human society.
When electronic devices are becoming smarter, and big data on the Internet can gain insights into people's hearts, humans are caught in collective anxiety. Faced with concerns that machines may replace human labour, Laura Peh (28 years old) believes that empathy, imagination, and artistic creativity will be the most valuable qualities in future human society.
It’s difficult to define who Laura is with a simple label. She is a harpist and has given recitals locally and in multiple European countries: she is also an experienced art curator and she has worked in top galleries in London and Hong Kong. At present, she is an entrepreneur, devoted to inspiring children's imagination and creativity through art education.
In March last year, Laura moved the focus of her business back to Singapore and founded Cinnamon Art Stories. This was not simply on a whim during a career downturn caused by the epidemic. It stems from her insights in the field of art management over the years, as well as her understanding and experience from her personal art journey.
Laura was born into a Singaporean family living in Hong Kong, and she returned to Singapore when she was 7 years old for school. At the age of 15, she went to France to study harp at the renown École Normale de Musique de Paris, and then successively studied at the Royal College of Music and Sotheby’s Institute of Art in London, where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in music performance and a master’s degree in art business.
If her wonderful resume has expanded the width of her life, then her constant pondering about art has deepened her soul.
At the age of 17, Laura laid her eyes on Monet's famous painting "Sunrise" at the Marmottan Museum in Paris. She said, "It was as if a light had shone into my world, and I felt more free than ever. It turns out that a painting has such a direct and strong impact on people. You don't need to practice rigorously like learning a musical instrument, you just need to feel it with your heart. In the world of art, everyone can be independent and complete."
From that moment on, Laura spent almost half of her time on children's education and community service apart from piano practice and schoolwork, bringing the feeling of beauty to more people through her performance and art explanation. This also paved the way for her to find a career she is truly passionate about now.
An artist who became an entrepreneur
The first series of Cinnamon's picture albums was published in January this year, introducing six of the most important painters of the 20th century, including Wu Guanzhong, Nam June Paik, Klimt and Mondrian. The stories in these albums are written by Bai Jiayu herself, and the illustrations are drawn by Septibella, an Indonesian illustrator.
The albums are endorsed by many leading art institutions, including the National Gallery Singapore, Asia Society Hong Kong Centre and Jameel Art Centre Dubai, and are available at 26 retail outlets around the world.
Isabelle Meo, a second-year student of the Department of Architecture at the National University of Singapore, is currently doing an internship at Cinnamon Art Stories. She said, "When I saw these six names at first, I was surprised. Because I would not associate these contemporary artists with children's books, but after thinking about it, I was fascinated by this stereotype-breaking thinking.
Building children's empathy
Laura believes that these albums are not merely published books, but art design products. With the help of these albums, she started to promote art enlightenment workshops for children locally. She said, "These painters come from different cultural backgrounds. I will read the stories to the children, then guide them to share unforgettable moments using a four-panel storyboard.”
Laura was timid when she was a child, and she hopes to give children the courage to express themselves and release their imagination using such method. Painting and language make this expression more solid and more artistic. This kind of enlightenment does not only allow children to have a natural affinity for art, but it also shapes a more empathetic and perceptive personality.
Now that it is the holiday period for the universities, Isabella Meo and Erika Solomon who is a student from the Singapore Management University, both joined Laura's team as interns to assist in the workshops.
Isabella said, "I am very grateful that my parents let me learn music and art since I was a child, but I know that not all families have such resources. Through picture albums like these, I feel that more people can enter the world of art."
Laura said, "I have always had a dream of starting a business. If it was just for wealth, maybe art trading would be a more efficient option. But my ideal job is one that can influence others and shape the future."