Art in Singapore

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The beauty of our world lies in the quality that the human has created in whatever small time it has been present on the face of the earth. Interestingly, this is not because of the sheer number that the humans are now present in on earth but the creativity and hard work that a little few of them have employed. This explains why some of the smallest communities or countries have been able to generate the most interesting works. Singapore is one such example. A small island made up mostly of expatriates that shares its political history with its neighbours. Not much is known of the art beyond the last 150 years in Singapore. Art in Singapore is therefore relatively new with little developments documented from its ancient past.

The art in Singapore started to take shape from the start of the 20th century with a significant number of immigrants pouring in from the neighbouring areas including China. The Chinese had a significant influence on the Singaporean art with earliest artforms showing heavy influences of the Nanyang style. Nanyang artform borrows the techniques from its Chinese legacy and applies it to art forms of other cultures including the Chinese, the Indonesian and the European.

Although the art scene in Singapore is attributed largely to the colonialism, the early decades of the 20th century saw significant movement in the artistic scene in Singapore. There were schools that taught art under both British and Chinese language systems with the primary medium at the Chinese schools being ink while those at British schools being pastel and watercolour. The importance placed on art in Singapore in those times was such that art societies sprung up in various parts. Although there was strong European influence with a few artists even studying art from Europe, the strong underpinning of Chinese influence did not erode till the mid of the 20th century. It was only in the second half of the 20th century that the so-called 2nd generation of Singaporean artist started showing a drift from the Chinese influence.

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Boat Quay by Lim Tze Peng

Artists such as Chen Wen Hsi, Chen Chong Swee, Georgette Chen, Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang were pioneers of art in Singapore. These artists were starting in the early decades of the 20th century and are attributed with teaching and training the 2nd generation of the Singaporean artists, thus creating heavy influence on the contemporary Singapore art.

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Still Life by Siew Hock Meng

Artists such as Siew Hock Meng, Ong Kim Seng and Lim Tze Peng are a few 2nd generation artists that received acclaim for their work in the field of art. Lim Tze Peng was awarded a Cultural Medallion in 2003 and was known for his calligraphy skills as much as he was renowned for his paintings. Ong Kim Seng was awarded seven times by American Watercolour Society. Queen Elizabeth II is known to be one of the collectors of his work. Siew Hock Meng was a student of The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and studied under one of the pioneers of art in Singapore – Cheong Soo Pieng.

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Early Life by Cheong Soo Pieng

Gillman Barracks, which is named after British army camps, was converted to an art gallery. This is now a group of galleries in a single building. It is also the most famous art gallery in the country. National Gallery Singapore, art commune gallery and STPI Creative Workshop & Gallery are a few other galleries in the country that boast of a strong reputation and acclaim.