Form For Form's Sake

Ilsa Sharp

Long obsessed with bound, tortured men, women bowed with the burdens of childbearing and pleading, starving children, sculptor Ng Eng Teng has entered a new, more lighthearted phase.

You can discover this new phase for yourself at this exhibition, his second one-man show in his native Singapore, in the shape of ciment fondu 'rockers', delightfully and deliberately non-functional ground-level mobiles, which topple around the floor employing the ancient balancing principle of the European "Kelly doll" to regain their stability.

Other new works here reveal traces of Indonesian influence, the schematic representation of a Batak girl's traditional headgear, for instance. This is the fruit of Eng Teng's recent holiday in Medan. Medan also brought him back to his favourite theme, motherhood -- "I never saw so many babies in my life as in Medan", he says. He was first led to a rounded interpretation of motherhood, often swollen and pregnant in appearance, by the demands of curving ceramics after his training at the North Staffordshire College of Technology ceramics school at Stoke-on-Trent, in the famous English "Potteries" area.

In the late sixties, a spell as visual aid officer at the International Planned Parenthood Federation of South-east Asia, based in Singapore, intensified his interest in motherhood as a sculptural and ceramic theme.

A graduate of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts in Singapore, Eng Teng remains essentially Singaporean despite his four years' training in Staffordshire and Surrey and at the Carrigaline Pottery Company factory in Country Cork, Ireland. Among his major commissions in Singapore are a sculpture for Eusoff Girls' College at the Singapore University, a four-foot-tall piece for the Esso refinery here and two murals in the Garden Hotel.

All four pieces bear witness to his commitment to current Singapore ideology: the Eusoff commission depicts four female figures representing the four races of Singapore, carrying a torch to symbolise education and floating upwards to enlightenment; the Esso sculpture, a mushroom-like object, has four trunks to stand for the races and is covered with symbolic references to the Republic's environmental and economic progress. "I admit I am very proud of my country but I am not consciously working towards social realism or nationalistic art", explains Eng Teng.

He is concerned that his art should reach the public but is not hamstrung by a desire to appeal to popular taste or even to design with functionality in mind -- "I am very interested in free shapes, more ornamental than functional,"

There is no doubt that Eng Teng's work is of the highest quality. As one of the Republic's very few sculptors and ceramists, he is to be valued and also as an artist of great integrity with a rare sensitivity to the beauty of form alone, for form's sake.

Singapore can be proud too that his reputation is now spreading beyond the Republic - in December, he will exhibit in Bangkok, at a four-man show sponsored by the British Council and at his own one-man show for Silpakorn University's Faculty of Arts arts centre.


Sculpture, ng eng teng, Singapore, 1972, unpaginated.

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Last updated: 11 January 2001