A long long back at Malayan art

A long long back at Malayan art
NUS Museum curator Ms Chang Yueh Siang (left) with Dr Lai Chee Kien from the NUS School of Design and Environment. Dr Lai is co- curator of the two-year-long exhibition titled, Between Here And Nanyang, which is on at the NUS Museum.

If you fancy, you can take as long as two years to walk through the exhibition, Between Here And Nanyang, at the NUS Museum.

The show at the National University of Singapore, which runs till 2015, marks the 50th anniversary of the landmark book A Brief History Of Malayan Art by the late arts writer Koh Cheng Foo.

Koh, who wrote under the pseudonym Marco Hsu, offers a view of Singapore's incipient art history in his 1963 treatise and challenges the thinking that the region at the time, mainly a place of commerce, was a cultural desert.

The show brings to life his writings using more than 80 artefacts, paintings and sculpture, which are displayed in a loosely chronological manner that mirrors the narrative of the book.

From 19th-century woven baskets from Malaysia to the works of pioneer Singapore painters such as Liu Kang and emerging artists in the late 1950s such as Ng Eng Teng, the pieces in the exhibition underscore Koh's defence that the region's art and culture is long and rich.

While hardly labyrinthine, the exhibition and its intent is best grasped through repeated visits during its run, which stretches until the year of Singapore's golden jubilee.

Assistant Professor Lai Chee Kien, 48, who is with the NUS department of architecture and co- curator of the two-year-long show, says the exhibition is a way of "spatialising the book".

"It returns to the 1963 moment, 50 years later, when Singapore became independent from Britain and it parallels the two years Singapore was part of Malaysia," he says.

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