An Appreciation of Ng Eng Teng's Sculptures at Temasek Junior College

Brother Joseph McNally

It is to the credit of Temasek Junior College that it has commissioned three pieces of sculpture by Eng Teng. One of these was actually ordered by the pioneers of the College. The other two, in a series of five linked relief panels each, are a contemporary paean to the joy of life in Temasek and in the Republic. They are also a tangible tribute by a college and its leaders to the spirit of Singapore.

I am happy therefore to see his three pieces in juxtaposition. In a special way they are complementary. The relief of the murals is contrasted with the full roundedness of the Pioneers. The macrocosm depicted within the lobby contrasts with the microcosm outside. The national ideals of the former are ideologically and stylistically opposed to the rugged personal battle shown in the latter. Before entering the College the student is reminded that life is a struggle and that sacrifice is demanded for success to be achieved. Within, the serene joys of College life are shown to be continuous with those of a peaceful Republic.

In the case of Pioneers, the group of struggling students bringing order to the chaos of collapsing pillars would not be enhanced by greater detail. The artist has known when to stop. He leaves something to our imagination. He prefers understatement rather than the opposite. He works by simple symbolism. The absolute is the rectangular block of the base. It represents rectitude, balance, order, gravity, verticality and the relationships of time and space. Above it struggles the human spirit faced with the problem of evil. The order of the universe has been lost and must be restored. The falling pillars may be those of Temasek but they are also elements of evil, chaos which must be set right. They must be brought into line with the absolutes below. All of this must be a community effort. Even the student "falling over the edge of the universe" must be brought back into line by his fellows. This will happen within the College.

Inside, the contrast could hardly be greater. The dynamism of struggle is left behind. The very title suggests that chaotic darkness has been overcome. The rhythms are those of a well-ordered universe. Verticals and horizontals are stressed. Newton's law of gravity is challenged by cosmic Einstein forces in the first three panels on the left. Gradually it asserts its authority and after passing through Temasek in the fourth panel on the left the rhythm flows more gently especially on the right side of the portico into adulthood, parenthood and national responsibility on the island-global-village of Singapore.

Note the extreme simplicity and linear quality of the treatment of the body and how much it contrasts with the chunkiness of Pioneers. Eng Teng shows an equal simplicity in his treatment of other symbols such as those of the sun, water, fish etc ........

How fortunate for Temasek to have such works of art to contemplate.


Temasek Junior College, Singapore, 1985, unpaginated

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Last updated: 11 January 2001