“The most important is to believe and worship with an honest heart. Treating the statue with care is a gesture of paying respect to the deity. The proper way is to offer a glass of water and to burn joss sticks 24 hours a day. Water does not only symbolise ‘wealth’ in Chinese culture, it also helps moisturise the wooden statue and prevent it from cracking. Joss sticks are ‘staple diet’ for the god/deity, and the smoke helps preserve the wooden statue” – Yeap Siew Kay
Mr Yeap was born in 1947 in Nan An of Fujian Province, China. His grandfather and father came to Malaya as transient workers. According to Mr Yeap, his grandfather had travelled to Malaya over 16 times. He first worked in Kuala Kangsar before moving to Penang. In 1959, at the age of 12, Mr Yeap and his mother moved to Peanng where the family was reunited and eventually settled down.
Mr Yeap started wood carving in 1970. He was driven by the need to carve a statue of the main deity worshipped by the Yap clan. At that time, statues were not easily available in the market because supplies from China were abruptly stopped due to the Cultural Revolution that banned production of anything ‘archaic’.
The turning point came in 1973 when he was employed by a contractor to carve furniture for the Yap Temple on Armenian Street, George Town. It was a big project that took about 5 years to complete. He single-handedly carved almost 95% of the decorative shrine. That brought him instant fame. Many people started to commission him for carving works. His main clientele includes Taoist temples and shrines as well as individual households. His services range from ritual-orientated objects such as statues, shrines, ancestral tablets, temple columns to vernacular objects such as seals/stamps and busts. However he refuses to carve anything related to black magic such as miniature coffins and phalluses.
According to Mr Yeap, the most intricate and final step of the carving process is face painting, especially painting of eyes and eye brows. It is the deciding factor which will make or break the significance of the statue. As such, Mr Yeap will ensure he is not hurried into completing the step. After completing the face, Mr Yeap will place the statue at a high table and see it from a distance to make sure everything is right.