The National Gallery Singapore yesterday gave the media a preview of what promises to be the largest exhibition of modern South-east Asian art in any one space.
Come Nov 24 when the gallery housed in the refurbished City Hall and Supreme Court buildings opens, one of its spaces - the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery - will show about 400 artworks spread over three floors in the former Supreme Court building.
The works in this long-term opening exhibition, titled Between Declarations And Dreams, are drawn not just from Singapore's national collection, but are also on loan from the Fukuoka Art Museum in Japan and Tropenmuseum in Amsterdam. Other works are on long-term loan from collections in the region, including from the Philippines, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
These loans help present key artworks documenting momentous times from the 19th century to the 1990s, says the gallery's director Eugene Tan.
He adds that the exhibition in its entirety tells a comprehensive story of how art evolved in the region, including the various influences and how even regional subjects had global perspectives.
This look at "shared experiences and impulses amid diversity" has been, like the rest of the gallery, five years in the making, he explains.
"While a cause for celebration, it is also a reminder of the historical, social and political context in which Singapore has been a part of. It brings to mind the commonality of experience in the region we call South-east Asia," he says.
The title of the opening exhibition is taken from a 1948 poem by Indonesian author Chairil Anwar and allows the curators to explore issues such as personal and ideological perspectives as well as personal motivations in art- making.
Several iconic artworks such as Filipino artist Juan Luna's 1884 oil on canvas Espana y Filipinas (Spain And The Philippines) help in understanding the impact of colonial rule on the broader region, while Vietnamese artist Nguyen Duc Nung's Binh Minh Tren Nong Trang (Dawn On A Farm, 1958) shows how artists in the region used materials such as lacquer on board to portray everyday issues and scenes.
The exhibition is divided into four broad themes: Authority And Anxiety (19th to early 20th century), Imagining Country And Self (1900s to 1940s), Manifesting The Nation (1950s to 1970s) and Re:Defining Art (post 1970s).
Dr Tan says: "By drawing on common themes, we want to introduce fresh perspectives that allow visitors to fully appreciate the richness and complexity of modern art in the context of the entire region."
The UOB Southeast Asia Gallery has been made possible by a donation from UOB which celebrates its 80th anniversary this year.
While the bank has not revealed how much it is giving to the museum, this partnership is among several high-profile corporate donations secured by the National Gallery ahead of its opening.
Admission to the permanent galleries, including the UOB Southeast Asia Gallery, is free for Singaporeans and permanent residents.
This article was first published on October 28, 2015.
Get a copy of The Straits Times or go to straitstimes.com for more stories.