History of Singaporean Art

Unlike the European art which is mostly concentrated on the visual and performing, Singaporean art embraces far more aspects. Absorbing the many cultures that made up its society, the country developed an eclectic collection of art form that also includes the more universal paintings, sculptures, dances music and theater. What makes the Singaporean art more distinctive is its merging of the recognized European with the symbolism in beauty of Asia. Works of notable artists and other masterpieces to be displayed in the Singapore National Gallery will embody the unique and cultural heritage of the country.

The Chinese culture has significantly influenced the country’s art form. The Chinese immigrants to the city state brought with them China’s calligraphy, porcelain and sculptures. Singapore’s art was mostly based on the Nanyang art influences. Nanyang is the type of artistic expression, using Chinese forms and techniques but applied to different cultures. The earliest form of Nanyang art were of the Bali paintings rendered by Chinese artists. Although Nanyang has prominent Chinese art attributes, it also has telltale signs of European lines. The Nanyang evolved to forms of expression that incorporated not only European influences, but cultural heritage and other indigenous belief and popular practices of Singapore as well. The most notable Nanyang artists include Chen Chong Swee, Liu Kang, Chen Wen Hsi, Georgette Chen and Cheong Soon Pieng.

The close of World War II created a significant break for artistry in the country. During the 60’s the drift from the heavy Chinese influence became more apparent. But it was on the 70’s when multiculturalism became the mainstream. The period was the start of Singapore’s contemporary art scene. Singapore has museums that are over 100 years old, but it was only after the war when the first art gallery was established. Art historians subscribes to the verity that the art trend and development of the country is not in conjunction to the international art trend, rather, it is derived purely from the thespian evolution itself and the country’s history.

Commercialism of the art in Singapore started after the first art exhibition staged in 1950 by the Singapore Art Society. The overwhelming acceptance of art by the public and the society in general has prompted the establishment of the commercial galleries and the emergence of art promoters, exhibitions and artists. The 80’s saw the emergence of the new generation artists who incorporated and experimented in mixed media pieces and used innovative media like paper pulp, fabric, paint and plaster in contrast to the traditional watercolor of Chinese Nanyang.

Present day Singapore art is the perfect representation of the country. It is rich in tradition, symbolism, innovative and combines the tradition and influences not only of its four major cultures but that of the world as well. As the country is aiming to be the key Asian artistic and societal hub, the artistic scenes have successfully evolved to accommodate its international audience, but have retained its uniqueness and national identity.