Celebrated for his highly cinematic depictions of everyday life and historical moments in post-colonial Singapore, painter and Cultural Medallion recipient Chua Mia Tee’s works go beyond mere representation, seeking to capture the feelings and mood of a particular moment. Chua was both a teacher at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) and an active member of Equator Art Society, established to promote the social realist style of painting in Singapore, making him a key figure of the Second Generation artists who were visually documenting a tumultuous yet hopeful time in the nation’s history.
Step into ‘Chua Mia Tee: Directing the Real’ and be whisked into a time machine that transports you to 1950s-1980s Singapore. The exhibition features over 50 works that include paintings, rarely seen sculptures and sketches, alongside archival materials and filmic recordings that focus on the formative years of Chua’s theories on realism. A continuation of National Gallery Singapore’s exhibition programme that shines a spotlight on some of the country’s most influential artists, the solo exhibition which opened on November 26, the day after Chua’s ninetieth birthday, is the first institutional one since 1992.
Divided into three main sections, each spotlighting a critical aspect of Chua’s practice and life in Singapore, the exhibition starts off with works dedicated to his contributions to Singapore’s art history. The paintings displayed include some of his most celebrated and familiar works such as Epic Poem of Malaya and National Language Class, alongside sculptural busts and artworks exhibited at the first Equator Art Society exhibition in 1958.
Following this, is a section dedicated to the protagonists of Chua’s paintings, including commissioned portraits and sketches of local figures and leaders such as President Yusof bin Ishak, as well as everyday people and the working classes. Among these, Workers in a Canteen is a personal favourite of the artist and conveys Chua’s respect and admiration for the blue collared worker.
The final section is dedicated to the paintings and sketches produced by Chua during Singapore’s nation-building years. As the country underwent rapid urbanisation and neighbourhoods were gradually being gentrified, the artist sought to capture the atmosphere and vanishing scenes of bustling marketplaces and the chaotic energy of mercantile life by the Singapore River. Two large-scale panoramas of modern local cityscapes by Chua are deliberately displayed in this section by the curators, as a visual contrast against these colourful vestiges of Singapore’s past.
Overall, ‘Chua Mia Tee: Directing the Real’ offers an in-depth look at the body of work produced by one of Singapore’s most beloved national artists who has produced iconic works held in the National Collection. The exhibition runs from 26 November 2021 till 20 November 2022 at the National Gallery Singapore, Level 4 Gallery. Audio guides are available in English, Mandarin, Malay and Tamil.