UNESCO-NIE Centre for Arts Research in Education (CARE)

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Name of Author: 
Foo, Kwee Horng
Thesis (M.A.) National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University
Matthews, John ; Leong, Jane
Year of completion: 
Country of Research Data: 

The establishment of the Singapore Overseas Chinese Art Academy in 1922 could be regarded as Singapore's first art school. The school offered Western Art and traditional Chinese Art as major courses. For minor courses, it offered pastels, watercolours and pencil classes. In his opening speech for the Academy, Sun Feigu the founder mentioned that the aim of the school was to produce talents to improve the artistic appeals of Chinese-made products. Although it appears that Sun's Academy was a school for commercial art, early Singapore art was certainly not all of that nature. Artists also explored genres such as landscapes, portraits, figures and still lifes before the Japanese Occupation years (1942 to 1945). While such works may have contributed to our knowledge of the various types of pre-war Singapore art, they have not allowed us to better understand facets of life as experienced by the early Chinese immigrants. The feelings of the pre-war Chinese were for their motherland China and the local Chinese artists took every opportunity through their art to reflect their concerns. Their chosen mediums were cartoons and woodcuts. Through two mediums, artists here depicted social and political events of China in a satirical but acute manner. Along with the systematic promotion and proliferation of the two art forms mainly through the Chinese newspapers, artist also began commenting on local events. For the many cartoon and wood cut artists, social commentary became their purpose for making art. In addition, many pre-war art publications, art societies and art exhibitions revolved around cartoons and woodcut images and articles taken from Chinese daily newspapers before 1942, this research aims to establish an overall picture of the pre-war Singapore Chinese art movement. The analysis of the visuals will also reveal to us the social and political events of China and Singapore as faced by the local Chinese population. In short, the many long forgotten artists will link us to the past by providing a subtext through their cartoons and woodcuts.

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