Nanyang art movement in the spotlight at National Gallery Singapore


(24 November 2015, Tuesday)With the opening of the National Gallery Singapore on Tuesday (Nov 24), pioneer artists who lay the foundations of the Singapore arts scene now have a home dedicated to their work.

The Nanyang art movement in particular, left its imprint on Singapore art history and about 80 of such artworks are on display at the National Gallery Singapore. They are part of the Nanyang Reverie period, that is parked under the permanent DBS Singapore Gallery. Nanyang – a Mandarin term that means “southern seas” – is often used to categorise things from Southeast Asia. In the context of art, it usually refers to Chinese artists in Malaya from the 1930s and ’40s.

Many forerunners of Nanyang art were once educators at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), established in 1938. They include names like Cheong Soo Pieng, Chen Wen Hsi and Georgette Chen.

“In the first year of enrolment, there was only a meagre of 14 students and there was not enough money to sustain it, donors were not interested to give money to the school,” said Dr Bridget Tracy Tan, director of the Institute of Southeast Asian Art and Galleries at NAFA. “So these teachers had to be innovative, teach to earn money, teach privately or teach at the mainstream school to get a salary so that they could support their profession and part time teaching at NAFA. So they were involved in that community, in building that community that eventually nurtured this academy.

Mr Ang Ah Tee was one those students. The Cultural Medallion winner is among Singapore’s foremost second generation artists – a term used to refer to those who were taught by the pioneers and went on to develop a voice and vision all their own.

The 1962 NAFA graduate is known for his landscape paintings. His inspiration are destinations around the world. Ang also values the importance of foundation and creativity in his craft.

There are two things he learnt from his teachers.

“Cheong Soo Pieng, he was more open. He did not confine students based on whatever they drew. You do whatever you like. And to him, the most important thing – in Hokkien there’s a word – ‘swee’. ‘Swee’ means beautiful. So as long as at the end of the day, if you paint a picture, the most important is beautiful,” he said. “Whereas for Georgette Chen, everything had to be perfect. The foundation had to be very good in order to create a good piece of artwork.”


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南洋艺术学院 Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts

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