Members of defunct art society hold exhibition

Members of defunct art society hold exhibition
Six of the 10 former members of the Equator Art Society (from left) Tong Chin Sye, Koeh Sia Yong, Hua Chai Yong, Lim Yew Kuan, Ong Kim Seng and Yong Cheong Thye.

SINGAPORE - Watercolourist Ong Kim Seng was only 17 in 1962 when he joined the Equator Art Society, a controversial art group formed by left-leaning artists in the turbulent 1950s.

Fresh out of Pasir Panjang Secondary School, he attended free art classes for members at the society's two-storey shophouse opposite the leftist political party Partai Rakyat in Geylang. He was also a regular at its annual exhibition, usually held at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

At its height in the late 1950s and early 1960s, the society had several hundred members, mostly from its literature and music sections which were infiltrated by activists from the communists underground.

By 1972, the society was deregistered after it failed to submit a fresh application for membership with a full list of its committee members as required by the Registry of Societies then, said its last president, oil painter Koeh Sia Yong, 75.

The name Equator Art Society may have since gone into near oblivion, mainly due to its links with the leftist movement, but many former members like Ong, now 68, and other pioneers including founding president Lim Yew Kuan, oil painters Chua Mia Tee, Tan Choh Tee and Lee Boon Wang, and watercolourists Hua Chai Yong and Tong Chin Sye have continued to paint as professionals.

So there were some raised eyebrows when 10 of them decided to put on an exhibition of their past works using the defunct society's name.

Why stage the show, titled "137km North of the Equator: A Story of the Equator Art Society and Realist Artists in Singapore", more than 40 years after the society was deregistered?

Artcommune Gallery manager Ho Sou Ping, 41, an artist himself, said he is staging the 10-day exhibition which opened on Friday to create greater awareness of the group's significant contributions to Singapore's art history.

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