South and SouthEast Asian Collection





Ling Qingni
Scenery of Nanyang University
Ink on paper
179 x 98 cm (each)
S1980-0569-001-0 to 003-0

Ling Qingni (1914 China - )

(Lim Tsing-ai), native of Guangzhou. Studies art and literature at Sun Yat-sen University, Guangzhou. Later settled in the United States of America, taught at Rudolph Schaeffer School of Design, San Francisco. In 1957, he taught in the art department of Hue University, South Vietnam and was also a visiting art teacher at University of the Philippines, Manila.

It was during this period in 1957 that he visited Malaya and when he excuted this work.

Translated colophon:
Thrice I went up to Yunnan Garden to visit the gentlemen Chen Zongnan, Li Guochang, She Xueman and Liu Taixi. Every time I gazed afar from its highest point, the view all around looked incomparably beautiful. Even though I wanted to paint it, I had never been able to begin. Presently, having returned after six months of roving in Malaya, I attempted once again to paint the scenery. Upon completion, I inscribed a poem, courtesy of Mr. Li Guochang.

There is a building on the highest peak at Yunnan Garden, which was where the artist worked on his painting. Everyone was having a good time, talking leisurely beneath the flowers. By Ling Qingni. December 1957.





Chen Chong Swee
Kampong (Village)
Chinese ink & colour on paper
120 x 60 cm

Chen Chong Swee (1910, China – 1985, Singapore)

A native of the Guangdong Province of China, Chen Chong Swee migrated to Singapore the year he graduated from the Xinhua Art Academy, Shanghai, in 1931. Chen extended his artistic pursuits in a number of fronts as painter, writer, and educator, the latter of which he was most noted. He taught art in a number of Chinese schools set up in Singapore, including the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (established in 1938), and proved to be an influential art educator. In 1935, he co-founded the Salon Art Society (now known as the Singapore Society of Chinese Artists). Chen is regarded as one of the pioneers of modern Singapore art, and a key figure of the Nanyang School. He was awarded the Meritorious Public Service Star by the Singapore government in 1965.

Like his contemporaries Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Liu Kang, Chen was concerned with forging ways to articulate Nanyang or regional Southeast Asian identity. Kampong (Village) exemplifies Chen's early endeavours towards local imageries in the Chinese ink and brush landscape format. In 1952, Chen accompanied Chen, Liu and Cheong, on a painting trip to Bali. The trip proved to be an important one as it surfaced Bali as a source for imaging the Nanyang.

Translated colophon: The hills are covered with coconut trees and various other trees
An abundance of rain is stored amidst the greenery-rich summits

A sinuous ravine encircles the village and makes it easily

accessible by boat
Although the ridges are lofty, they do not hinder the white clouds passing by

Late spring of the year wushen [i.e., 1968]
Chong Swee
[Seal impression]: Chong Swee





Liu Kang
Building Site / Samsui Women
Oil on canvas
151 x 212.5  cm

Liu Kang (1911, China – 2004, Singapore)

One of the seminal figures of modern Singapore art, Liu Kang, along with his contemporaries Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng, Georgette Chen and Chen Chong Swee, are regarded as pioneer artists whose practices shaped the pictorial language of the Nanyang School. Born in Fujian, China, Liu's formative years were spent in Malaya. He returned to China to train at the Xinhua Arts Academy, Shanghai, before departing for Paris in 1928 to immerse himself in the Parisian art scene where Liu's paintings suggest the stylistic influence of Post-Impressionism. He taught at Xinhua for a few years before returning to Malaya in 1937, and eventually settled in Singapore after World War II. In Singapore, Liu's artistic activities extended beyond art making to teaching and writing, revealing himself to be a keen observer and articulate commentator on art, society and culture.

Liu worked largely in oil and pastel. In the 1950s, he pushed the earlier stylistic values of Post-Impressionism to advance naïve and decorative qualities and gave precedence to bright hues, flat surfaces and bold outlines in his treatment of local themes. These qualities mark an individualistic style that is Liu's alone among his contemporaries. Liu Kang's Building Site/ Samsui Women (1951) pays tribute to the female economic migrants, who laboured as construction workers in the early years of modern Singapore. This can be cross referenced with Dr Ivan Polunin's video collection of samsui women at work. Originating from the province of Sansui, the samsui woman's uniform consisted of a red headgear and dark blue shirt and pants. The individual activities of the women labouring on a construction site are evident as they engaged in building the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) at Collyer Quay.  The work is explicitly detailed in a realist manner, suggesting the artist's intent to offer an account of their exacting vocation.

Liu was conferred the Public Service Star in 1970 and the Meritorious Service Medal by the Singapore Government in 1996. 





Chua Ek Kay
A Window of Deep Blue at Kreta Ayer
Ink and pigments on paper
96 x 106 cm

Chua Ek Kay (1947, China – 2008, Singapore)

Chua Ek Kay migrated to Singapore when he was a child. He took ink painting lessons in the expressive Xieyi style under Fan Chang Tien in the late 1970s and early 1980s before devoting himself to full time art making in the late 1980s when he enrolled himself in LaSalle Art College. Between 1994 and 1995, he furthered his formal art training in Australia where he received a Masters degree from the University of Western Sydney. While firmly rooted in the Chinese ink tradition, Chua's concerns are equally to engage with contemporary contexts.

A Window in Deep Blue at Kreta Ayer belongs to Chua's long standing Street Scene series, a theme he began to develop from the mid 1980s. Chua's street scene paintings in the 1980s and early 1990s centred around shophouses and narrow alleys in the old quarters of Singapore. In this painting, details of the shophouse are eschewed for minimal essentials to bring focus on the compositional arrangement and formal ink values.

Chua's Street Scene series stem from endeavours to locate meaning between the ink tradition and contemporary life, fuelled by the artist's conviction that the traditional landscape genre required thematic re-location for contemporary contextual relevance. There is also in Chua's choice of old shophouses and narrow alleys a sense of nostalgia for traditional haunts at threat by modernity and urban redevelopment. 





Mohammad Din Mohammad
Singa Kuda
Skull and tail of a horse, coconut, old carvings and computer stand
90 x 160 x 30 cm

Mohammad Din Mohammad (Malaysia 1955 – Singapore 2007)

Besides man's physical journey, it is also a spiritual quest. Singa Kuda mirrors the human imagination and the experience that represent an inward journey. Mohammad's sculptures and paintings are assemblages of found objects he collected and transformed. An exponent on Malay mystic beliefs and practices, his works are expressions of his spiritual worldview in which the objects he assembled are the separation of the body and soul. He expressed the need to unite their separated dimensions into an art form intended as symbolic codes. Animal bones, hair, coconuts, horseshoes are some of the objects used to incorporate the versatility and aesthetics of his works. Each work reveals his inner journeys and his quest for the universal aspect of existence. Singa Kuda simulates a horse astride, while the lion figurine that sits at the tail end is the rider. The work can be read as a metaphor for the spiritual journey where both vehicle and rider represent an integrated duality, a united whole, a spiritual quest that unites mankind. As a traditional healer, and a teacher of silat martial arts, his works act as extensions for healing.

Mohammad din graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts with a diploma in fine arts in 1976. Apart from being an artist, he was also a tabib or traditional healer, and a teacher of silat martial arts. 





Cheong Soo Pieng
Red Composition
Oil on canvas
90.5 x 122 cm

Cheong Soo Pieng
1917, China – 1983, Singapore 

Acknowledged as the most innovative and influential artist of his generation, Cheong Soo Pieng is one of the seminal artists of the Nanyang School. His legacy is pronounced among the generation of artists who tutored under him at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. While he is popularly associated with languid Southeast Asian beauties worked in Fauvist idioms of flat colours and decorative values, Cheong's career is marked by constant and restless experimentations with mediums and stylistic modes of expression. Of particular art historical note is his contributions towards advancing schematic synthesis of the ink and Western traditions with modernist sensibilities.

Born in Amoy, China, Cheong trained at the Amoy Fine Art Academy and the Xinhwa Art Academy, Shanghai. Migrating to Singapore after World War II, he joined the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and remained on staff until 1961. In 1962, Cheong was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal by the Singapore government for his contributions to Singapore art. In 1967, the National Art Gallery in Kuala Lumpur featured Cheong in the first of its retrospective exhibitions; in 1983, the National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore, also gave him a retrospective exhibition.  

In 1962, Cheong Soo Pieng made his first trip to Europe and spent a fruitful year in London where he had a number of solo exhibitions. The trip widened his horizons as an artist as he visited museums and galleries and saw works by the classical and modern masters. Upon returning, Cheong's paintings became notably abstract and the dynamic play of tones assumed formal precedence in compositions that gave expression to atmospheric mood and temperament as exemplified in Red Composition. The composition combines simplified linear elements and a schema of saturated colours to present the poetic sensibilities of a burningly vivid semi-abstract landscape.





Balinese Pictorial Indigenous Calender (Palalintangan)
Cotton textile
123.5 x 158 cm

The Kamasan style of traditional painting originates from religious symbols used in rituals and ceremonies and is greatly influenced by Hindu and Buddhist deities and myths that have been popular for centuries. The colours, motifs, and stories are uniquely presented via this intriguing art style which uses natural materials to make the pigments used in the paintings. Glue is made from fish or animal skin (and even tree sap) to bind colours to the handmade cotton cloth. The cloth has been especially treated with starch and polished using a cowrie shell, which makes the surface smooth for easy drawing. Once characters and stories have been selected by the artist, a pencil is used to sketch them on the cloth.

Everything used is natural, with the brushes and pens cut from bamboo and the fibers from sugarplum stalks. The different colours are made from minerals, rocks, carbon, leaves and calcium. There are several processes involved in creating these paintings, though most elements are constant, so that body parts are outlined in black and red, hair is always black and skin and wood are brown. The artwork is a collaborative effort, with the initial drawings done by the more accomplished painters and apprentices adding colours. Only the most skilled artisans complete the final details since they have the most experience. Epic Indian myths like Ramayana and Mahabharata are most frequently illustrated in this traditional style of painting





Lim Mu Hue
Studies for"The Backstage of a Puppet Theatre"
Pen & pencil on paper
21.6 x 13.5 cm

Lim Mue Hue (b.1936 – 2008)

The late Singapore born Lim Mu Hue was trained in western painting at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Along with his contemporaries, Lim taught at the Academy and was influenced by the Woodcut Movement in China. His prints often reflect socio-political themes depicting daily life of ordinary Chinese and portraying the beautiful atmosphere of their local villages. Working with a variety of mediums from oils, ink to woodcuts and charcoal, his works are strongly grounded in the Singaporean lifestyle and Chinese symbolism reflecting his Chinese identity.

Backstage of a Puppet Theatre is a work by Lim Mu Hue who emerged in the 1960s along with his contemporaries Lim Yew Kuan and Choo Keng Kwang as artists working in the woodblock medium engaging with the social realities of post-war Singapore. This particular work emerged from Lim Mu Hue's interest in Chinese performing arts. Lim goes backstage, extending the privilege of close encounter with street opera actors to viewers. The print is shown alongside its paper transfer to highlight embellishments that the artist made to his observation rendered on paper. Lim's interest in patterns and decorative embellishments elevate the social narrative to a loving work with much anecdotal charm.





Lim Mu Hue
Transfer for "Backstage of a Puppet Theatre"
Pencil on paper
41.5 x 32.5 cm





Lim Mu Hue
Backstage of a Puppet Theatre
Woodblock print on paper
41.5 x 32.5 cm





Vincent Hoisington
Pontianak (Female Vampire)
Oil on board
183 x 62.5 cm


Vincent Hoisington (1924 – 1972, Singapore)

Vincent Hoisington was a self-taught artist who identified himself as a 'painter-decorator' rather than an artist. This perhaps has less to do with self-deprecation than the nature of his practice. In the twenty years of his professional career, Hoisington produced studio-sized paintings, undertook public art commissions of large murals and sculptures, and designed window displays and display props for shopping centres. The design work and public art commissions may have dominated his practice since he participated in only a few exhibitions, and what documentation of Hoisington as an artist remains sparse. Even so, Hoisington's late 1960s polyurethane-coloured aluminium relief works incorporating abstract motifs of geometric and organic forms are noteworthy as works of corporate commissions, almost all of which are no longer extant at their original sites.  

Hoisington's painting, Pontianak, portrays the Malay folk version of a femme fatale. A vampire in the guise of a beautiful woman, she emerges at night to lure unwary men to their deaths. Hoisington's nude possesses an ethereal beauty. Her pale translucent body glows as if lit by an internal light as she emerges from the opaque.





Yeh Chi Wei
Dawn at Angkor
Mixed media on canvas
107 x 217 cm

Yeh Chi Wei trained at the Shanghai Art College in the mid-1930s and settled in Singapore after World War II. Yeh taught art at Chung Cheng High School and in 1961 led a group of young artists on a painting trip to Peninsular Malaya. The trip was to lead to the formation of an informal group called the Ten Men Group which included Choo Keng Kwang, Lim Tze Peng, Seah Kim Joo and Shui Tit Sing, who participated in all the trips. Between 1961 and 1970, the group made six painting trips to regional Southeast Asia that were followed by group exhibitions.

Dawn at Angkor reflects Yeh's interest in regional Southeast Asian landscapes and cultures. Working on a limited colour range of dark and earthy hues, a semi-abstract landscape is the backdrop for rural folk life amidst the ruins of Angkor. The painting is a precursor to trajectories Yeh would develop in the 1970s where abstraction stylisation and the incorporation of decorative elements, combined with the use of dark earthy hues served to invoke the sensibilities of primitive art.      

Yeh Chi Wei's place in Singapore art history is established upon his role as art teacher at Chung Cheng High as well as being the chief organiser of the Ten-Man Art Group, a grouping of artists who travelled to various Southeast Asian countries in the 1960s with the main intent to seek new and invigorating subject matters for painting. Yeh participated in all six of the Ten-Man art trips, sourcing places and cultures he met along the way for indigenous subject matter which he painted in his own distinct style informed by an interest in ancient Chinese stone carvings and bronze and bone ware calligraphy.
Dawn at Angkor features a ceremonial chariot, a familiar subject matter in Yeh's oeuvre. The chariot seems headed for the precincts of a temple preceded by some pilgrims walking in front. The Bayon temple, with its distinct four-faced Buddhas stupas, is readily identifiable in the background. The ceremonial splendour of the setting is achieved by Yeh Chi Wei's austere choice of colour.





Eng Tow
1947, Singapore –

Dancing Waves (1982)
Acrylic-dye on textile
142 x 102 cm


Eng Tow began formal art education at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts and went on to complete a Bachelor's degree at the Winchester School of Art, Hampshire, and a Master's degree at the Royal College of Art, London, in the early 1970s. She remained in London to work as a textile designer and an artist craftsman. Dancing Waves belongs to Tow's clothworks period on the late-1970s and early 1980s. Using industrial and hand methods, Tow produced disciplined constructions of rhythmically ridged relief that bear references to Op Art. Executed in and on cloth, using the needle and airbrush as her 'paintbrush', most of the works of this period were statements reflecting the theory of colour.

Tow received the New Craftsmen's Grant from the Crafts Council, UK, in 1977 and the British Crafts Award (Textiles) given by Telegraph Sunday Magazine (UK) in 1978. She returned to Singapore in 1981, and later developed a series of works on paper. These were cast, collaged or painted abstract compositions that marked a move from the earlier disciplined constructions to more intuitive and poetic sensibilities





Lai Foong Moi
1931, Malaysia – 1995, Singapore

Pounding Rice (1959)
oil on canvas
201 x 250 cm


Lai Foong Moi was one in a handful of women artists to emerge in the Malayan art scene in the 1950s. She moved to Singapore to study at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1953. A scholarship from the French Government took her to Paris in 1955 to study at the L'Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux Arts. She returned to Singapore in the late 1950s and accepted a teaching position at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts 1958, remaining on staff until 1994.

In Pounding Rice, Lai's choice of local themes places her among artists of the Nanyang School. Here, she pays tribute to indigenous batik traditions as forms are simplified and the women's physical attributes are abbreviated to solicit greater attention to the intricate patterns on the batik skirts they wear. Lai's body of works demonstrate her aptitude with stylistic realism and Post-Impressionism. However, Pounding Rice, made soon after her return from Paris, signals Lai's development towards a more individualistic style.





Redza Piyadasa
1939 - 2007, Malaysia

Baba Family (1987)
silk screen print and acrylic on paper
140 x 114 cm


Baba Family belongs to Redza Piyadasa's Malaysian Series which began in the early 1980s. In the series, Piyadasa makes silk screen prints from old photographic portraits of indigenous Malays and the multi-ethnic settlers of Malaysia, and re-works them with psychedelic colours and traditional fabric. In doing so, he personalises the past and surfaces issues of history, memory and identity.          

Artist, art critic, art historian, and educator, Piyadasa wears many hats. He graduated from the Hornsby College of Art, London, in 1967, and completed his post-graduate degree with the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, in 1973. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, Piyadasa emerged as one of the driving forces advocating conceptual art as an alternative aesthetics to formalist values prevailing in Malaysian art. Together with Sulaiman Esa, he staged Towards a Mystical Reality in 1974, in which installations incorporating found objects were introduced as investigative strategies to examine issues of society, identity and culture. The exhibition was accompanied by a manifesto in which they advocated the revision of Malaysian art based on Asian values.





Wee Beng Chong
1938, Singapore –

Hunger (1970)
Concrete Cement
166 x 74.5 x 34 cm


Wee Beng Chong is a painter, sculptor, print-maker, calligrapher and seal-carver. Wee trained in the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in the 1950s and later left for Paris in 1964 to study at the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Beaux-Arts. If his practice is multi-disciplinary, it is also stylistically diverse, with a body of work that extends from the Chinese art tradition to Western academic realism and modernist abstraction. However, as one of the founders of the Modern Art Society, it is Wee's developments in modernist expressions that has attracted critical attention.

Hunger, produced in 1970, reflects Wee's interest in modernist expression. The sculpture is elongated and its angulated values serve to convey the figure's emaciated condition.





Jimmy Ong
1964, Singapore –

Venus Rising with the Moon (1998)
charcoal on paper
150 x 150 cm


While New York has been his home since the mid-1990s, Jimmy Ong continues to make regular presentations of his work in Singapore. A scholarship from the Detroit Art Center for Creative Studies first took him to the United States in 1985. He furthered his training at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1992.

While his practice extends to painting in oil, drawing in the medium of charcoal has been for Ong the favoured mode of art making. In this regard, he has sustained a practice in still-life and figure drawings over two decades. For Ong, still-life drawing offers meditative and skill-honing opportunities, and possibilities for expressions of poetic sensibilities. Conversely, he regards his figure drawings as visual "prose" to which he appends allegorical narratives and reflections on personal memory, the human condition and inter-personal relationships. 

Venus Rising with the Moon belongs to the later category in Ong's practice. The drawing may well be interpreted as an allegory of narcissistic self-absorption as the female figure turns her gaze onto herself and appears to admire her reflection. But it is equally plausible that her inward gaze proceeds from a longing for self-knowledge and self-affirmation. Her robust form defies contemporary notions of beauty, and while this may add to the narrative issues of the impact of social conventions on women's sense of identity, it is also true that Ong's figures are generally robustly built in the manner of Rembrandt's style to which Ong acknowledges influence.








Gandharan Buddha
3rd - 4th Century,
Gandhara (modern day Pakistan)
56 x 25 x 13cm

Feet of Bodhisattva
2nd Century,
Gandhara (modern day Pakistan)
19.2 x 21.8 x 11cm


The sculptures form one of the most significant parts of the South Asian Collection here at the NUS Museum. The earliest piece in the collection is a Standing Buddha from the Gandharan region orwhat is present day Pakistan. In 1959, the standing figure was displayed on a plinth with feet wearing slippers. However, at the inaugural exhibition of the NUS Museum in 2002, the curators were informed about the possible mismatch between the body and feet, raising the possibility that the body and the feet belong to two different sculptures. As elaborated by one art historian, 'from studies of the iconography of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas of the Gandharan region, one notices that the Bodhisattvas are usually depicted wearing slippers and other princely attire, and not the Buddhas.'





H.C. Gade
Oil on Canvas
76 x 101.5cm


H.C. Gade's Boatman (1957) presents a determined commitment to individual modernism. Gade was a founding member of The Bombay Progressive Group which began in 1947 with a self-declared socialist position. As a result, Gade's style seems to be derived from a combination of Cubist means and expressionist goals – an approach shared by many of the 1940s Modern Art Movement who sought to convert banal and working class motifs like that of a boatman and the thrust of an oar into convincing symbols of critique against the excesses of the colonial experience.





Lady Beckoning to a Peacock
Mewar School

(modern day Rajasthan, India)
Mineral and Vegetable Dyes

on Paper
Late 18th Century


In Lady Beckoning to a Peacock, the bird, whose thirst is proverbial, was believed in the drier areas of India to induce rain. The peacock was (and continues to be) the symbol of romantic and passionate love. In 1963, the Indian government accorded the peacock the status of the National Bird. Likewise, most of the other objects represented in the miniature paintings are visual creations of emotional and perceptive concepts that depict how courtly life was to be remembered and understood through an artistic medium. Miniature painters employed at various royal courts, during the "medieval" period, discovered the potential of expression in their depiction of how later generations of artists and nationalists fighting for Indian independence from colonialism would turn to, in expressing eclectic modes of being which encompass often unnoticed syncretism within the seemingly "Islamic" as Mughal and "Hindu" as Rajput motifs that the practice of miniature painting so vividly hybridizes.



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