Bodies Transformed: Seated Figure

Constance Sheares

This document is part of a joint project of the NUS Museums and the University Scholars Programme, National University of Singapore. This image and accompanying text appears here with the kind permission of the NUS Museums. Note: click on any of the pictures in the following text to obtain additional information and larger images, which take longer to download.

Dreaming, 1992 (Fig. 34), Hopeful, 1992 (Fig. 35) and Wondering, 1992 (Fig. 36), all dated 1992 and cast in bronze in Thailand by the artist himself, are a continuation of the series of seated bronze figures of which Looking Ahead, 1987 (Fig. 37) is the first. The stylisations, omissions and simplifications of the earlier sculpture are now handled with greater confidence and compositional skill. The graceful juxtapositions of the head resting on the hand and, in turn, the elbow on the thigh give these sculptures a pleasing fluidity.

Dreaming Hopeful Wondering Looking Ahead

Seen from certain view points, it is almost impossible not to perceive a phallic shape in Sitting Torso, 1994 (Fig. 38). Amorphous and pared down to the minimum, it is enlivened by an inlaid surface patterning. Although committed to figurative work, Eng Teng is all the while testing his own capacity to re-invent the human form in abstract terms. Sensual and disquieting, his work often arouses ambivalent feelings. The simple, emblematic forms have the power not only to arouse strong responses but to provoke consideration of a range of issues which are fundamental to our sexuality.

Bewitched Bewitched, 1992 (Fig. 39) is perhaps the most interesting of Eng Teng's cast-in-Thailand bronzes and can be considered a forerunner of the Torso-to-Face group of works which emerged two years later. It is part human and part a figment of the artist's imagination. Here, humanity merges into a broader nature and consciousness slips into dream. Head, upper arms and legs are missing in this drastically abbreviated work. It is frontally and symmetrically composed, with arms folded enigmatically below the breasts which seem on the verge of doubling up as eyes. This eye-breast interchangeability is fully evolved in Small Eyes, 1994 (Fig. 40) which is among the earliest in the Torso-to-Face series and closely related to Sitting Pretty A, 1994 (Fig. 41).

Sitting Pretty A Sitting Pretty C Both Sitting Pretty A and Sitting Pretty C, 1994 (Fig. 42) are remarkable for the hollowing out of the torso, described by Eng Teng as "the big emptiness in the centre", leaving just the barest outline of the figure. This outline is in fact a sinuous, unending line, creating elegant and effortless simplifications of form. The empty space within is the most active element in these pieces which can easily be read as human figures, not of particular persons but the distillation of all humanity. It is also easy to see how cleverly the artist has used the basic composition of Sitting Pretty A for that of House on Rock A (Fig. 9), where the cloud, architectural structure and ground are the equivalents of the head, upper torso and lower torso, respectively, in the former work.


Constance Sheares. Bodies Transformed: Ng Eng Teng in the Nineties. Singapore: NUS Museums/ National University of Singapore, 1999.

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Last updated: 11 January 2001