The Society of Chinese Artists

Kwok Kian Chow

This document is part of a joint project of the Singapore Art Museum and the Honours Core Curriculum, National University of Singapore. This image and accompanying text appears here with the kind permission of the Singapore Art Museum.

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The late 1920s to the mid-1930s were therefore years when visual art activities blossomed in Singapore. Nan Sing Arts Association and the Nanyang journalistic Caricature Association were active during this period. The Society of Chinese Artists was established in 1935, marking the beginning of art institutions in Singapore.

Originally named the Salon Art Society, the Society of Chinese Artists adopted its current name in its second year (1936). Its founding members were Cai Zhuzhen, Li Yunyang, Ling Daoan, Xu Junlian, Zhang Bohe, Ling Tian, Chen Shengping, Liu Gongxi, Huang Cheng Chuan and Li Kuishi. This list lengthened at the society's second meeting in the latter part of 1935 to include Tchang Ju Chi, Zhuang Yiuzhao, Lu Heng, Lai Wen Kee, Gao Zhengsheng and Chen Chong Swee (Yeo Mang Thong Ibid pp. 40-1). This core membership, with several from Malaysia, Indonesia and Hong Kong ("Hushi" p. 14), were mosty alumni of Shanghainese art academies: The Shanghai Academy of Fine Arts, Shanghai University of Art and Xinhua Academy of Fine Arts.

The Society of Chinese Artists was therefore exposed to the ideals held by the May Fourth Movement in China. This awareness made a crucial difference to the Society's aesthetic orientation compared to that of United Artists Malaysia in the late-1920s and early 1930s. While the United Artists Malaysia promoted ink painting and calligraphy, the Society of Chinese Artists were inspired by Western art, their idioms of expression a range of representational renditions from Academic Realism to the more formal and expressionistic concerns of Post-impressionist trends, But the significance went beyond style. The Society of Chinese Artists believed in the communicative and educational functions of art -- a fundamental change from the notion of art as an elitist cultural pursuit as espouced by United Artists Malaysia. 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.


Society of Chinese Artists "Huishi" in Art 90. Singapore: 1990.

Yeo Mang Thong. Xinjiapo zhanqian huaren meishushi lunji. Singapore Society of Asian Studies, 1992.

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Last updated: May 2000