Peh-Back Time

Published on 26 December 2017

PHOTO: Joel Low ART DIRECTION: Tony Law STYLING: Lirong assisted by Adele Ng HAIR: Nigel Woo/Passion Hair Salon MAKEUP: Kenneth Lee using Cle de Peau OUTFIT: Sequinned dress from MSGM

Our January cover girl, Joanne Peh, may not have had a creative, arts-filled childhood but she is making up for lost time as a mother of two.

By Pamela Ho

Joanne Peh breezes in, clad in t-shirt and shorts, her hair casually pulled back, and flashes you a slightly apologetic smile. The mother of two explains her son’s class ended late, as she settles down opposite you like an old friend. You almost forget this former Mediacorp actress is an A-lister who walks the red carpet at glitzy events and has garnered two Best Actress wins at the Star Awards.

In 2015, Peh was picked to kick-start the National Gallery Singapore’s My Masterpiece campaign to make art more accessible to all. While she attends art events like the recent Yayoi Kusama exhibition, and theatre productions like Army Daze 2 and The Sound of Music, Peh surprises you by confessing that she remembers close to nothing about doing art or drama in her childhood.

“I never thought I’d be an actress. It was never a dream,” says the Mass Communications graduate, best known for her award-winning role in Channel 8 drama, The Little Nyonya. “As a child, I was never brave enough to do the things I wanted, or even to know what I really wanted. Because of my upbringing, I didn’t have my own mind about what I liked or where I eventually wanted to end up.”

It was only after she left Mediacorp, married Chinese actor Qi Yuwu and started a family that she created space to explore her personal inclinations. “Every year, I make a resolution to do something that’s out of my comfort zone, that I’m fearful of. In 2016, I decided to pick up sewing. I signed up for a class and I loved it! Now I own a sewing machine and I make clothes for my daughter.”

Last year, she resolved to learn Japanese. “If my two-year-old daughter can pick up a language from scratch, so can I. I feared picking up new skills because there is such a steep learning curve! I know there are many people like me, who are intimidated by art, but what’s the worst that can happen?”

Since her daughter was 10 months old, they’ve been exploring art together. “We paint with coloured ice cubes or by rolling a ball. Recently, I’ve exposed her to musicals and TV shows, following up with a book or a piece of music,” she shares. What started as an attempt to facilitate her daughter’s artistic discovery has birthed an idea that, perhaps, this can benefit other children too.

While things are still tentative, Peh reveals she is working on a creative programme for children aged four to six. She has already run a pilot workshop. “Children are most imaginative at this age and I want to create an environment to capture the magic they are creating on a daily basis, allow them to develop story-telling skills through inquiry and collaboration.”

When asked about her resolution for 2018, Peh is apprehensive about making it public. “I’ve always been fond of musicals. The first soundtrack I ever bought was Phantom of the Opera — I memorised everything!” she discloses, adding that a few years back, she even took private singing lessons. “So if I’m going to do something that’s out of my comfort zone this year, it’s to be in a musical.”

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