Social realism in Singaporean art : its beginnings, practice and subsequent decline

Choo, Yiang Hong Francis (2014) Social realism in Singaporean art : its beginnings, practice and subsequent decline. Masters thesis, LASALLE College of the Arts.

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Item Type: Thesis (Masters)
Title: Social realism in Singaporean art : its beginnings, practice and subsequent decline

For more than forty years social realist art works were seldom exhibited and are deemed commercially unappealing to the art market. However, in the past year, social realist art works have been getting a lot of attention in exhibitions. There has also been a corresponding demand for their acquisition from both museums and private collectors. This could be due to the historical and investment value accorded to such works based on the realization that the supply of Singapore social realist art is limited as there has been virtually no new work from this genre since the 1960s. Recent social pressures in Singapore especially arising from concerns about the increase in the number of foreigners allowed to take up residence and employment opportunities as well as the increasing gap between the rich and poor segments of society resonate with the art of social realism. It is timely to examine the particular history of social realist art and to understand the factors which contribute to its beginning as well as its eventual decline.

Social realism has always been seen as politically leftist. Although the form originated from Europe, Chinese immigrant artists and those who were Chinese educated dominated its practice in Singapore. The influence of Communist ideology from China as well as racial communalism was also associated with the rise of social realist art in Singapore. The propagators were the Chinese middle school students and their art societies. The Graduates of the Chinese High School of 1953 Art Society and the Equator Art Society were the two key institutions involved in leading and spreading this form of art. The Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, its founder and some of the teaching staff provided the training ground and the centre which supported social realist art. Artists such as Koeh Sia Yong, Lee Boon Wan, Ong Tian Soo and Chua Mia Tee were pioneer social realist artists of Singapore. They organized art societies that drove the social realist art movement which was active in the 1950s and the early 1960s.

This study shows that social, political, economic and cultural factors bear influence on the artists who practice social realist art. However the conditions for the rise and fall of this form of art were dependent on the political motivations of the ruling parties. The art form reached its peak in the 1950s but declined in the 1960s subdued by government interventions. The highly organized effort by the ruling independent government of Singapore for a national identity based on a multi-racial and multi-cultural society also acted to discourage the social realist artists’ preoccupation with more communal issues.

Subjects: Art History
Divisions: Faculty of Fine Arts > Master - Asian Art Histories
Depositing User: Ms Ashalatha Krishnan
Date Deposited: 15 Jun 2015 09:18
Last Modified: 15 Jun 2015 09:18
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