Shortlist: Singapore

C. J. W.-L. Wee, Professor of English, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore
May 2015

Overview

The Singapore art historian T. K. Sabapathy wrote that ‘Artistic practices in Singapore have largely existed in a critical vacuum. While criticism has surfaced sporadically, it has not been developed sufficiently to provide comprehensive documented accounts of contemporary art in Singapore’ (‘Contemporary Art in Singapore: An Introduction’, p 83). Sabapathy wrote these words for an edited critical volume that accompanied the ‘First Asia-Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art’ (1993). The situation is much less dire now than before, but not so much that there are established and critical written histories of modern and contemporary art. This is in spite of the emergence of a more pronounced artistic infrastructure in terms of art schools, state-supported arts housing, and museums and galleries with researchers and curators, than could have been imagined in, say, the early 1990s. The Singapore government has significantly increased funding for the arts, and a National Arts Council was set up in 1991, but as of December 2014, there remains no fully-fledged university-level department of art history. The Nanyang Technological University does, however, offer a minor programme in art history, and its National Institute of Education, an undergraduate degree in visual art education.

Sabapathy, a tireless voice articulating the need for deeper cultural knowledge in the city-state, taught art history on a full-time basis at the National University of Singapore (NUS) for two decades. However, this appointment was not in an art history department (for, none exists there still), but in the Department of Architecture. (See Sabapathy’s Road to Nowhere: The Quick Rise and the Long Fall of Art History in Singapore [2010], which gives an important recollection of art history as it was taught during the late-colonial years at the former University of Singapore, now the NUS.) The pragmatic question is often asked: what would a graduate in art history do in Singapore? The British did not set up any art academy when they ruled Singapore from 1819–1959 in contrast to the French in Indochina, who had the l’École supérieure des Beaux-Arts de l’Indochine set up in Hanoi in 1925. The Singapore government seemed to have followed the British in the immediate post-independence years in their attitude towards art studies.

The lack of sustained studies of art history in Singapore means that the selected texts for this Singapore Shortlist are sometimes ‘writing on art’ rather than art history or art criticism per se, written by artists, art curators, and others who were or are broadly related to the arts. The selection is therefore uneven in nature, combining exhibition catalogues, academic essays/theses, and artists’ own reflections on Singapore art, along with shorter, tentative opinions on art. Though definitive academic art historical studies on Singapore art still wait to be written, there is a generally accepted narrative of this history—limited as our historical art knowledge is—seen in Kwok Kian Chow’s extended exhibition catalogue Channels and Confluences: A History of Singapore Art (1996).

Historical Contexts and General Histories of Art Institutions and Art
Besides the issues mentioned above, a particular challenge in thinking through ‘Singapore’ art history is that until 1965, when Singapore withdrew or was ejected (depending on the political point of view) from the Federation of Malaysia (formed in 1963), no one thought Singapore could or indeed should be an entity separate from the former Malaya, which was renamed West Malaysia in 1963. Malaya and Singapore share a colonial past of economic exploitation ineluctably linked to cultural and racial concerns, which are manifested in artistic production on both sides of their common border. The late Malaysian artist and art critic Redza Piyadasa (1939–2007) in his essay ‘Early Modern Art Developments in Malaysia and Singapore, 1920–1960’ noted that ‘modernist values’ in artistic terms were inaugurated by ‘Chinese-educated artists who were either local-born, or else artists who had emigrated [sic] to Malaya from the 1920s onwards’ (p 230). (What may also be of note—and contrary to what we may expect of postcolonial cultural formations—there was no post-independence assertion of Malay art as the necessary foundation for an indigenous national visual-artistic culture in West Malaysia and Singapore.)

Due to the shared Singaporean past with Malaya, the first text in the list is Marco Hsü’s A Brief History of Malayan Art (1999). The period covered in the (problematically) titled A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s–1970s; Dialogues Between Szan Tan and Daniel Tham (2013) is indicative of how changing national boundaries complicates an understanding of a shared past. This past, and the cultural production related to it, should not disappear, hard as it is to deal with such questions in the present given that a half century now separates one entity from the other.

Primary Voices on Art: Artists on Art
The lack of detailed historical knowledge of Singapore’s recent cultural past means that the so-called ‘First-Generation’ and ‘Second-Generation’ artists who engaged with artistic practice in various forms—occasional pieces in the Singapore newspapers, journal publications, etc.–have a valuable place in the city-state’s artistic archive.

Chronological Developments
Singapore’s modern and contemporary art is generally believed to date back to the first quarter of the 20th century. The modern certainly is a complex term to apply in Singapore if we take it to represent a departure from a past traditional art. What is traditional art in a society that has as its  founding moment the arrival of a British East India Company official, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, in 1819? That is to say, the founding of Singapore itself is not an event tied to the (re-)assertion of a pre-colonial past, but instead is tethered to the arrival of an Englishman and the mercantile and cultural modernity he brought along with him. The idea of national art (and thus also national culture) is therefore a problematic idea: the postcolonial Singapore means to national identity was hamstrung because its nation includes several officially categorised ethnic groups—Chinese, Malay, Indian and ‘Others’—within its national boundaries. And, of course, each ethnic category is also a potential national category in its own right. The particular nature of Singapore’s colonial past, during which the British encouraged the immigration of labour, means that some 85 percent of its population is comprised of the descendants of immigrants, and, therefore, de-territorialised Chinese and Indians.

There is an added political layer when considering the term ‘national’: Singapore and Malaya experienced a post-war communist insurgency (1948–1960) led mainly by Chinese in a Malay-dominant region. These racial-cultural complexities colour the entirety of Singapore’s modern art history.

The first section, ‘Modernism(s) and Social Realism’, provides a selection of texts relating to the Chinese artists who were either immigrants or locally born. The Society of Chinese Artists (SCA), originally the Salon Art Society, started in 1935. The ‘modernist values’ of art that Redza Piyadasa refers to came to Singapore via Chinese artists trained mainly in the Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts, the Shanghai University of Art, and the Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts. The SCA helped artistic practice move away from Chinese-style ink painting and calligraphy to experimentation with Western artistic idioms ranging from academic realism to post-impressionist forms of expression. There was also a link with Xiamen (or ‘Amoy’, as the city was historically known in Singapore) in Fujian province through the presence of Lim Hak Tai (1893–1963), who was born and educated there, and who founded the Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA) in 1938. (The Xiamen link to Chinese artistic modernity remains less explored than the Shanghai link.)

The above developments crucially drew inspiration from the modernising and reform-oriented impulses of the 1919 May 4th Movement in China, resulting in art taken less as an elite or more-established literati-type activity, but rather one that held larger communicative and educational capacities. As Kwok Kian Chow puts it, ‘This new aesthetic would form the foundation of art in Singapore in the 1930s and 1940s, the preamble to the Nanyang School of the 1950s’ (Channels and Confluences, p 3). A possible key contribution towards the appearance of modern art was between 1939–1942 when Xu Beihong (1895–1953), the reformer of Chinese art, stayed in Singapore and taught calligraphy and Western art, painted portraits, landscapes, and raised funds for the anti-Japanese war effort in Republican China. This period is examined in a 2008 Singapore Art Museum exhibition: Xu Beihong in Nanyang. [1]

‘Nanyang’ literally means ‘the seas south of China’ and refers to Southeast Asia as a whole. The ‘Nanyang Style’ first applied to a vernacularism in Chinese-language literary work from around 1920, and was only later applied to painting that attempted to depict a regional culture. It is important to note, though, that the term ‘Nanyang Style’ is not a specific aesthetic paradigm or visual style, but a visual thematic or set of cultural concerns. The defining moment for this visual thematic occurred in 1952 when four ‘First-Generation’ artists—Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, and Cheong Soo Pieng—went on a field trip to Bali to explore the possibilities of expressing the region pictorially and how a symbolically creative artist might incorporate the ‘primitive’ into an experimental artistic language. A restrained primitivism indigenised in the search for Nanyang cultural specificity, and inflected in a variety styles from realism to post-impressionism, had arrived in Singapore from Western Europe via China’s modernising artistic culture. New York and Paris-educated Georgette Chen was the most important woman among the Nanyang artists from about 1950–1980, known for her post-impressionistic perspectives of Malayan and Singapore cityscapes and scenes of ordinary life.

The post-war Nanyang School has received much more attention than post-war social realist painting and woodblock caricatures. This is partially due to the more politically sensitive nature of some of the artworks produced. (Or, alternatively, it might be said that the project to represent Nanyang was less sensitive than the social realist project to represent ordinary Singapore life.) Social realist painting attempted to capture the truth of everyday life and had, at the very least, a left-leaning, egalitarian bent. If 1952 was the significant year for the Nanyang Style with the Bali trip, then 1956 was perhaps the notable year for social realism when ‘over 40 paintings from Singapore [were sent] to Kuala Lumpur and Penang [in Malaya] in a travelling show inspired by the Russian Social Realists, the Wanderers (Peredvizhniki)’ (‘137 km. North of the Equator’, p 7). A number of the artists involved were also among those who founded the Equator Art Society (EAS), the society most linked to local realist trends and registered officially in the same year of the show. Some members of the EAS had sympathy for the Chinese Communist Party, which had vanquished their Kuomintang foes in 1949; the events of the Malayan Emergency of 1948–1960  therefore made any sentiments in favour of this new China problematic (From Words to Pictures, 2007).

Woodblock print culture in the city-state had a vibrant presence in the 1950s and 1960s, but its origin are earlier, in the 1930s when an artist-activist had brought the Chinese novelist Lu Xun’s Modern Woodcut Movement to Singapore.[2] The prints viscerally represented subjects such as greedy capitalists, the proletariat, labouring classes in their daily toil, and even conflict with authorities in Choo Keng Kwang’s ‘13th May Incident’ (1954), which depicted students clashing with police in 1954 outside the Government House over the colonial government’s National Service Ordinance of 1952, which tried to introduce conscription. The larger difficulty that both the social realist paintings and the woodblock prints pose in our supposed post-Cold War days is how to ascertain the exact role of leftist anti-colonial nationalism in the nation-building processes of both West Malaysia and Singapore. Despite this question, the community orientation of both forms of art can be taken as an indication that Chinese artists, regardless of socio-political inclinations, were at home in Singapore and committed to (proto-)nation-building: they were no longer ‘diasporic’ overseas Chinese.

The next section, ‘Later Modernisms: The “Second-Generation” Artists’, gives a selection of texts on the artists who became prominent in the 1960s–1970s, many of whom were taught by the First-Generation Nanyang artists at NAFA. Some of the Nanyang themes continued, but in a more urbanised setting as Singapore’s built environment expanded in those decades. There were works in  realist/post-impressionist combinations, but artistic innovation expanded, for example, with experimental calligraphy and abstract expressionism. Artists played around with mixed media work, and sculpture started to appear. More artists were able to travel to the West for formal art studies—to Great Britain, in particular—and this contributed to expanded artistic options. This section represents an area that still awaits more attention: the artists in this group suffer, perhaps, as being seen to occupy the point of change that leads to the emergence (or possibly the disruption) of contemporary art.

The final section is on ‘Contemporary Art’. Arguably, the first ‘contemporary’ work in Singapore was Cheo Chai-Hiang’s conceptualist 5’ x 5’ (Singapore River) (1972). 5’ x 5’ is often taken to be the moment when an artist questioned the status quo definitions of Singapore art up to the 1970s. Cheo submitted a proposal from England that included a set of instructions for an annual art exhibition staged by the Modern Art Society. By the 1970s, the Singapore River had come to represent part of the narrative of a modernising city-state for a range of artistic conventions, becoming part of what curator Ahmad Mashadi calls a ‘provincial lyricism’ common to the region (Telah Terbit, p 10). Cheo proposed encapsulating an imaginary river within a blank five feet by five feet area over a wall and a floor, creating an artwork that could be a conversation piece. The society rejected his proposal, though Cheo persisted in his prognostications on art in Singapore. He advanced a number of ways forward for art practice that emerged as the visual arts developed in the 1980s, such as the rejection of formalism, the incorporation of personal and emotive elements, the emphasis on process rather than product, and the incorporation of audience participation in artistic acts.

By the late 1980s, the city-state witnessed a rush of unprecedented experiments in conceptual art, performance, installation sculpture, figurative painting (with German expressionist antecedents), pop art, and ‘happenings’. If, by the mid-1970s, conceptual art in the West was followed by a visual culture that had an unpredictable diversity, its ‘arrival’ in Singapore was also thoroughly and confusingly plural, but enormously energising. The environment, sexuality, violence, personal identity, multicultural identity, and feminism became valid areas for inquiry. The creative release brought intense and renewed critical cultural judgment into the visual-aesthetic realm.

How exactly we are to comprehend this ‘arrival’ still requires further investigation as contemporary art practices in the city-state are not the result of simple internal artistic development, moving from some version of modernism to some version of the contemporary. Rather, it was a disruption of artistic practice, arguably precipitated by the final return of the visual and performance artist Tang Da Wu from England in 1988, and his founding of the artists collective, The Artists Village. The full emergence of contemporary art was inextricably linked to Tang, who was a recipient of the Fukuoka Culture Prize in 1999. Fukuoka assessed his work:

'Throughout the 1980s and 90s Tang Da Wu has played a leading role in the art scene of Southeast Asia with Singapore as his base. By using innovative ways of expression, such as street performance or installations using everyday objects, and dealing with timely social, environmental and human rights issues, he cultivated new territories of artistic expression which has never been seen before in Southeast Asia.

'Meanwhile, Tang Da Wu’s activities and his works attracted many provocative artists of the younger generation [such as Lee Wen, Wong Shih Yaw, Zai Kuning, Vincent Leow, Amanda Heng and Koh Nguang How, all of whom are still practising artists]. He called together these youngsters and founded The Artists Village, a community bounded by art, where they created works, performed and held exhibitions together. Through these activities, he continued to inspire and encourage younger artists.'[3]

Tang’s impact on Singapore art is profound not only for individual art practice, but also as a source for inspiration through his activities in artist collectives (rather than art ‘societies’) and artist-driven exhibition spaces in the city-state.

This section on contemporary art also presents a selection of texts pertaining to a major arts controversy that took place at the end of 1993—one that marked and continues to mark the apparent limits of cultural experimentation and enquiry in the city-state. The Artists’ General Assembly was a multi-disciplinary arts event co-organised by two artist collectives—the 5th Passage and the Artists Village—from 26 December 1993 through 1 January 1994. During the early hours of 1 January, a young performance artist presented Brother Cane, which examined the police entrapment of homosexual men. This made the front page of a tabloid newspaper on 3 January 1994. The controversy spread, and other artists became involved, including a performance artist who drank his own urine and two theatre practitioners accused of Marxist theatre practices. The state reacted, resulting in a ten-year ban on funding performance art, and prohibition on staging unscripted work (Looking at Culture; ‘A Quota on Expression’; and Performing the Singapore State 1988-1995, the last reading taken from the section ‘Contemporary Art in Larger Contexts’).

This section concludes with the changed circumstances of the arts in general since the late 1980s. The 1990s saw increasing state commitment to the arts, notably with the opening of the Singapore Art Museum in 1996, and the inauguration of the Singapore Biennale in 2006. In contrast to the early years of independence, when the People’s Action Party (PAP) government used ‘culture’ for the practical and central purpose of nation-building, the 1990s witnessed attempts in creating an artistic-cultural infrastructure that would match and also boost the city-state’s status as an industrial and financial hub. Two responses are offered for the inaugural Singapore Biennale (‘Spectacle’s Politics and the Singapore Biennale’ and ‘Global Art, Globalised Art and “Belief”’), and one on artistic community-led initiatives that functioned alternatively to state-fostered arts initiatives (Arts in a Knowledge-Based Economy).

Reassessing the Nineteenth Century?
The National Gallery Singapore (which opens officially in 2015) is currently reassessing the importance of the itinerant painters, photographers, Chinese literati painters, and others who carried out various artworks in nineteenth-century Singapore, and their contribution to the visualisation. For example, the first British Resident of Singapore from 1819–1823, William Farquhar, commissioned watercolours of plants and animals in Malacca and Singapore, which were made by unknown Chinese artists—this collection is now in the National Museum of Singapore (Natural History Drawings). Another example is the landscape work, mainly in oils, of John Turnbull Thomson, a civil engineer who lived in Malaya and Singapore between 1838–1853 (An Early Surveyor in Singapore and The Thomson Paintings). In this way, the gallery hopes to open up and question the possible sources of modern Singapore art.

Contemporary Art in Larger Contexts
The final part gives readings that fall broadly into four sets of concerns: first, the state and artistic culture (Making Difference and Performing the Singapore State); second, the connections between contemporary art in Singapore to the larger Southeast Asian region (Intersecting Histories; ‘“Con-Art” Seen from the Edge’; Telah Terbit; and Negotiating Home, History and Nation); third, the manifold intersections and interdisciplinary approaches of contemporary art in Singapore in relation to other comtemporary art forms alongside links to questions of history, race, and artistic space on the island (Art vs. Art and Space, Spaces and Spacing); and, finally, the desire to be ‘globalised’ in Singapore and the relationship between this desire with the arts (‘Report from Singapore’; Performance Paradigm issue no. 8; ‘Authenticity, Reflexivity, and Spectacle’; ‘Creating High Culture in the Globalized “Cultural Desert” of Singapore’; and ‘Culture, the Arts and the Global City’).

I conclude with two thoughts on the question of modern and contemporary Singapore art that underpin parts of this bibliographic essay.

First, on modern art and modernism in Malaya/West Malaysia and Singapore. Boris Groys has written that ‘Modern art is (or, rather, was) directed toward the future. Being modern means to live in a project, to reduce it to a permanently self-effacing moment of transition from past to future.’[4]  From one critical perspective, when modernism declined and visual arts practices changed in the 1950s and 1960s, contemporary (as opposed to modern) art began to re-work what it meant to live in a project, acknowledging the power of the present, with the term contemporary functioning ‘as a soft signifier of current plurality’.[5]  If we accept these definitions of modern and contemporary art (obviously in the Euro-American context), we must say that modern art in West Malaysia and Singapore has never been and could not be entirely modernist, even with the many artists who were forward-looking in their socio-cultural views. Our shared arts historically has to contend with a present time of past things, especially the still volatile colonial inheritance of a multi-racial and plural society, and, in particular, with the nation-building phase of post-independence that spanned from the 1960s to the 1980s. There could be no ‘self-effacement’ in the attempt to move from the past to the future.

A problematic pluralism in the form of the race riots of 21 September 1964 in Singapore (with its links to the Singapore PAP’s campaign for a Federation of Malaysia that would be race blind, called the ‘Malaysian Malaysia’ campaign, as opposed to a ‘Malay Malaysia’ national identity) and 13 May 1969 in Kuala Lumpur, the federal capital (and the subsequent 1971 creation of the New Economic Policy [NEP] that followed) were repeatedly invoked as cautionary tales by the Singapore and Malaysian governments in the separate nation-building projects that ensued after 1965, when Singapore left Malaysia. If the PAP was committed to the universal categories of modern culture—‘regardless of race, language or religion’, as the 1966 Singapore National Pledge goes—this also indicated the crucial need to stop the plural from breaking through the surface calm. In contrast, in Malaysia, ethnic pluralism was addressed by the NEP’s aim to change the ratio of corporate equity ownership from 2.4:33:63 (of bumiputera [literally ‘son of the soil’, referring to the Malay and other indigenous ethnic groups]/‘other’ Malaysian/foreigner ownership) in 1971 to that of 30:40:30 by 1990. A grand modernist narrative of pure, artistic autonomy transcending the past and present was impossible when the arts were framed by racial-cultural sensitivities and separate Internal Security Acts on both sides of the common border. The divergences between Singapore and Malaysia still have consequences for more recent artistic developments in the two countries.

Second, the question of travelling art and culture. There has been a sense that modern art travelled from the advanced West to ‘elsewhere’, but there is also the recognition that Western artists also travelled ‘elsewhere’ to expand their vision of art. Inevitably, the history of art will not be the same everywhere, for the socio-political and economic contexts of each area cannot be the same as Western Europe or the USA. As such, artistic-cultural developments in the non-European ‘elsewhere’ need not be seen as ‘late arrivals’ which do not quite execute art as it ‘ought to’. That much should be obvious. But how we articulate the arrival and transformations of art in such multiple histories of modern art and culture is less clear.[6]  The question of how modern art ‘arrived’ in Malaya and Singapore courtesy of a modernising China means two translations of the modern are at stake in twentieth-century Malaysian-Singapore art history. What contemporary art is in Singapore’s present hyper-globalised urban culture can be a question that follows Arthur Rimbaud’s powerful and transformative cry, ‘Il faut être absolument moderne!’ (it must be absolutely modern!).

Footnotes
[1] Xu was also invited to and went to Santiniketan by Rabindranath Tagore (1861–1941) in 1940, suggesting that Singapore could be seen as participating in some manner to an intra-Asian dialogue on culture and the arts.
[2] See Yeo Mang Thong, Essays on the History of Pre-War Chinese Painting in Singapore, Singapore Society of Asian Studies, Singapore, 1992.
[3] ‘Tang Da Wu and His Works’, The Documentation of Tang Da Wu and His Works, 1979–1999: The Commemorative Exhibition for the 10th Fukuoka Culture Prizes, exhibition pamphlet, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, Japan, 23 September-7 November, 1999.
[4] Cited in Terry Smith, ‘Introduction’, Antinomies of Art and Culture: Modernity, Postmodernity, Contemporaneity, Terry Smith, Okwui Enwezor, Nancy Condee, eds., Duke University Press, Durham, 2008, p 7.
[5] Smith, ‘Introduction’, p 7.
[6] Cf. Singapore curator Ahmad Mashadi: ‘Societies across Asia during the late 19th century and the early 20th century underwent dramatic processes of political, economic and cultural transformations. … [D]ifferentiated histories and colonial legacies created modern experiences that were diverse, with multiple forms of reception, responses and outcomes’ (‘Cubism and Modernity’, Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues, Miwa Kenjin, Suzuki Katsuo, Matsumoto Tohru, Furuichi Yasuko, eds., National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2005, p 215).

Acknowledgements
Thanks to Lisa Horikawa, Kevin Chua, Lee Weng Choy, T. K. Sabapathy, Iftikhar Dadi, and Shabbir Hussain Mustafa for their comments and generous suggestions.



Recommended Readings

Historical Contexts and General Histories of Art Institutions and Art

Hsü, Marco C. F., A Brief History of Malayan Art, trans. Lai Chee Kien, Millennium Books, Singapore, 1999
Kwok Kian Chow, Channels and Confluences: A History of Singapore Art, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1996
Ong Zheng Min, A History of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, unpublished Master of Arts thesis, Department of History, National University of Singapore, 2006
Piyadassa, Redza, ‘Early Modern Art Developments in Malaysia and Singapore, 1920–1960’, The Birth of Modern Art in Southeast Asia: Artists and Movements, Masahiro Ushiroshoji, Toshiko Rawanchaikul, eds., Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, 1997, pp 229–233
Sabapathy, T. K., ‘Paradigm Shifts and Histories of Art’, Selves: The State of the Arts in Singapore, Kwok Kian Woon, et al., eds., National Arts Council, Singapore, 2000, pp 74–83
Sabapathy, T. K., Road to Nowhere: The Quick Rise and Fall of Art History in Singapore, The Art Gallery at the National Institute of Education, Singapore, 2010
Seng Yu Jin, The Primacy of Painting: Institutional Structures of the Singapore Art World from 1935 to 1972, unpublished Master of Arts thesis, Department of History, National University of Singapore, 2006
Tham, Daniel, ed., A Changed World: Singapore Art 1950s–1970s: Dialogues, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2013

Primary Voices on Art: Artists on Art

Chia Wai Hon, Bits and Pieces: Writings on Art, Contemporary Asian Arts Centre, LaSalle–SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, 2002
Liu Kang, Ho Ho Ying, Re-Connecting: Selected Writings on Singapore Art and Art Criticism, trans. Cheo Chai-Hiang, Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore, LaSalle–SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, 2005
Sara Siew, ed., Liu Kang: Essays on Art and Culture, National Art Gallery, Singapore, 2011

Chronological Development

Modernism(s) and Social Realism

Auyeung Hingyee, et al., Xu Beihong in Nanyang, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2008
Chia, Jane, Georgette Chen, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1997
Chua, Kevin, John Clark, Maurizo Peleggi, and T.K. Sabapathy, eds., ‘Painting the Nanyang’s “Public”: Notes Towards a Reassessment’, Eye of the Beholder: Reception, Audience and Practice of Modern Asian Art, Wild Peony, Sydney, 2006
Fan, Joyce, Social Commentary in Prints during the 1950s and Early 1960s, unpublished Master of Arts thesis, Pratt Institute, New York, 2000
Lai Chee Kien, et al., eds., Imprints of the Past: Remembering the 1966 Woodcut Exhibition—A Commemorative Catalogue, Select Publishing, Singapore, 2006
Lee Weng Choy, ‘That Bit Between Modernism and Tourism: Singapore Pioneers’, Eyeline: contemporary visual arts, Brisbane, Spring 1999, no. 40, pp 19–21
Lim Cheng Tju, ‘“Fragments of the Past”: Political Prints of Post-War Singapore’, The Heritage Journal, Singapore, 2005, vol. 2, no. 1, pp 22–47
Lim, Karen, et al., Imprints on Singapore Art: Works of 40 NAFA [Nanyang Academy of Fines Arts] Artists, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1998
Loo Ching Ling, ‘137 km. North of the Equator: A Story of the Equator Art Society and Realist Artists in Singapore’, 137km. North of the Equator: A Story of EAS and the Realist Artist, Artcommune Gallery, Singapore, 2013
Low Sze Wee, Teo Han Wue, ‘Early Modern Art’, Selves: The State of the Arts in Singapore, Kwok Kian Woon, et al., ed., National Arts Council, Singapore, 2000
Piyadasa, Redza, T. K. Sabapathy, Pameran Retrospektif Pelukis-Pelukis Nanyang [Retrospective Exhibition on Nanyang Artists], Muzium Seni Negara Malaysia, Kuala Lumpur, 1979 [not yet available]
Sabapathy, T. K., William S. W. Lim, eds., ‘Liu Kang’s Artist and Model: Thoughts on Art about Art’, Postmodern Singapore, Select Books, Singapore, 2002
Seng Yu Jin, et al., From Words to Pictures: Art during the Emergency, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2007
Toshiko, Rawanchaikul, ed., Modern Artists-II: Nanyang 1950–65: Passages to Singapore Art, trans. Takagi Nozomi, Horikawa Lisa and Ishimatsu Noriko, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, 2002
Yeo, Alicia, et al., eds., Singapore Artists: A Select Annotated Bibliography, Vol. 1: The Nanyang Artists, National Library Board, Singapore, 2009 [not yet available]
Yow Siew Kah, A Modernised Chinese Literati Painting: Liu Kang’s Works, 1930–1960, unpublished Master of Arts thesis, National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2010

Later Modernisms: The ‘Second-Generation’ Artists

Sabapathy, T. K., Ng Eng Teng: Art and Thoughts, NUS Museums, National University of Singapore, Singapore, 1998
Sabapathy, T. K., Sculpture in Singapore, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore, 1991
Sabapathy, T. K., Tan Teng Kee: An Overview, 1958–2000, Sculpture Square Limited, Singapore, 2001
Sabapathy, T. K., Teo Eng Seng: Art and Thoughts, Ethos Books, Singapore, 2011
Sabapathy, T. K., Thomas Yeo: A Retrospective, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1996
Toh, Joyce, Kwok Kian Woon, et.al., eds., ‘Second Generation Artists’, Selves: The State of the Arts in Singapore, National Arts Council, Singapore, 2000
Wee, C. J. W.-L., ‘Tan Teng Kee: Beyond Parisian-Inflected Modernism to Contemporary Art’, Vehicle: Contemporary Visual Arts, Singapore, 2002

Contemporary Art

Cheo Chai-Hiang, ‘“Current Issues” in Singapore Art’, Artlink, Adelaide, 1993, vol. 13, nos. 3 and 4, pp 123–130
Chew, David, et al., Singapore Contemporary Artists Series: Vincent Leow, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2010 [English]
Davis, Lucy, ‘Of Commodities and Kings: Tang Da Wu’s Serious Play with Psycho-Geography and Public Memory’, ArtAsiaPacific, Sydney, 2000
Ho, Michelle, et al., Amanda Heng: Speak to Me, Walk with Me, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2011
Hori, Khairuddin, et al., Lee Wen: Lucid Dreams in the Reverie of the Real, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2012
Krishnan, Sanjay, et al., eds., Looking at Culture, Artres Design and Communication, Singapore, 1996
Kwok Kian Woon, Lee Wen, eds., The Artists Village: 20 Years On, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2009
Lee, Joanna, The Artists Village: Alterity Examined, unpublished Master of Arts essay, Department of Fine Arts, University of Sydney, Australia, 1997 [not yet available]
Lee Wen, Performance Art in Context: A Singaporean Perspective, unpublished Master of Arts thesis, LaSalle–SIA College of the Arts, Singapore, 2006
Lee Weng Choy, Nora Taylor, and Boreth Ly, eds., ‘The Assumption of Love: Friendship and the search for Discursive Density’, Modern and Contemporary Southeast Asian Art, Cornell Southeast Asia Program Publications, Ithaca, 2012
Lingham, Susie, ‘A Quota on Expression: Visions, Vexations and Vanishings–Contemporary Art in Singapore from the Late 1980s to the Present’, Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991–2011, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2011
Openends: A Documentation Exhibition of Performance Art in Singapore, The Substation, Singapore, 2001
Sabapathy, T. K., Cecily Briggs, Cheo Chai-Hiang: Thoughts and Processes (Rethinking the Singapore River), Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2000
Sabapathy, T. K., ‘Contemporary Art in Singapore: An Introduction’, Tradition and Change: Contemporary Art of Asia and the Pacific, Caroline Turner, ed., University of Queensland Press, St. Lucia, 1993
Sabapathy, T. K., ed., Trimurti and Ten Years After, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 1998
Storer, Russell, et al., Situation: Collaborations, Collectives and Artist Networks from Sydney, Singapore, Berlin, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 2005
Tang, Jeannine, ‘Spectacle''s Politics and the Singapore Biennale’, Journal of Visual Culture, December 2007
Wee, C. J. W.-L., ‘Christianity, the Work of Wong Shih Yaw and Contemporary Art’, The Inoyama Donation: A Tale of Two Artists, Low Sze Wee, ed., Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2006
Wee, C. J. W.-L., ‘Global Art, Globalised Art and “Belief”’ (Singapore Biennale 2006), Broadsheet: Contemporary Visual Arts and Culture, Adelaide, 2006
Woon Tien Wei, Arts in a Knowledge-Based Economy: Activist Strategies in Singapore’s Renaissance, unpublished Doctor of Creative Arts thesis, Department of Design, Curtin University, 2012

Reassessing the Nineteenth Century?

Dozier, Laura, ed., Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803–1818, Editions Didier Millet, National Museum of Singapore, Singapore, 2010
Hall-Jones, John, Christopher Hooi, An Early Surveyor in Singapore: John Turnbull Thomson in Singapore 1841–1853, National Museum, Singapore, 1979
Hall-Jones, John, The Thomson Paintings: Mid-Nineteenth Century Paintings of the Straits Settlements and Malaya, Oxford University Press, Singapore, 1983

Contemporary Art in Larger Contexts

Davis, Lucy, Making Difference (So Easy to Enjoy So Hard to Forget): Looking at Visual Culture, Culturalism and Political Aesthetic Strategies in Singapore, unpublished Magister thesis, Roskilde University, Denmark, 2001 [not yet available]
Gumpert, Lynn, ‘Report from Singapore: A Global City for the Arts?’, Art in America, New York, December 1997
Langenbach, William Ray, Performing the Singapore State 1988–1995, unpublished Doctor of Philosophy dissertation, Centre for Cultural Research, University of Western Sydney, Australia, 2003
Lee Weng Choy, ‘Authenticity, Reflexivity, and Spectacle; or the Rise of New Asia is not the End of the World’, positions: east asia cultures critique, Durham, 2004, vol. 12, no. 3, pp 643–666
Lee Weng Choy, ed., The Substation Conference 1993: Art vs. Art: Conflict and Convergence, The Substation, Singapore, 1995
Lee Weng Choy, ed., The Substation Conference 1995: Space: Spaces and Spacing, The Substation, Singapore, 1996
Lenzi, Iola, et al., Negotiating Home, History and Nation: Two Decades of Contemporary Art in Southeast Asia 1991–2011, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2011
Mashadi, Ahmad, Telah Terbit (Out Now): Southeast Asian Contemporary Art Practices during the 1970s, Singapore Art Museum, Singapore, 2006
Poshyananda, Apinan, ‘“Con-Art” Seen from the Edge: The Meaning of Conceptual Art in Southeast Asia’, Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s, Queens Museum of Art, New York, 1999
Sabapathy, T. K., ed., Intersecting Histories: Contemporary Turns in Southeast Asian Art, School of Art, Design and Media, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, 2012
Wee, C. J. W.-L., ‘Creating High Culture in the Globalized “Cultural Desert” of Singapore’, The Drama Review (TDR), Winter 2003, vol. 47, no. 4 (T180), Cambridge, pp 84–97
Wee, C. J. W.-L., Terence Chong, ed., ‘Culture, the Arts and the Global City’, Management of Success: Singapore Revisited, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, 2010, pp 489–503
Wee, C. J. W.-L., ed., Special Issue ‘Practising Contemporary Art in the Global City for the Arts, Singapore’, Performance Paradigm, Sydney, 2012, no. 8