Saturday, March 17, 2007

Wealth and Contentment just outside the University Cultural Centre

Wealth, Ng Eng Teng, 1974, Ciment Fondue.

This is to supplement the earlier post titled NUS Museum: The works of Ng Eng Teng.

I personally think that although Wealth and Contentment were not commissioned for the University Cultural Centre, these two sculptures look quite blissful (and not frightening) against the lush green grounds just outside the University Cultural Centre.

My only complaint is that the sculptures do not seem to be prominent to most visitors who happen to be passing by the University Cultural Centre on a bus or vehicle. Some visitors of the centre may just miss Wealth and Contentment unless they take the time to locate the two large sculptures that are placed just by the side of the main entrance of the centre.

I could only ask that visitors to the NUS Museum take a slight detour to check out these two sculptures. If one is going to the NUS Museum to view Ng Eng Teng's works, I dare say that the experience won't be complete without viewing these two sculptures.


For everyone's convenience, here is the address of the NUS Museum:

NUS Museum
University Cultural Centre Annex
50 Kent Ridge Crescent
National University of Singapore
Singapore 119279

Opening Hours
10am to 5pm (Mondays to Saturdays)
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays

Admission is FREE

Sunday, March 11, 2007

NUS Museum: The works of Ng Eng Teng

Ng Eng Teng's Red Face (1986). Ciment Fondu, Paint and Lacquer.

Away from the hustle and bustle of city life, located within the premises of the National University of Singapore, is the NUS Museum. This museum houses the following three art collections:

- The Chinese art collection displayed at the Lee Kong Chian Art Museum
- The South and Southeast Asian collection displayed at the South and Southeast Asian Gallery
- The Ng Eng Teng collection

I have visited the Ng Eng Teng Gallery at the then National University of Singapore Museums several years ago, and I dare say it was my favourite section of the museum. However, when I went to visit the NUS Museum slightly more than a month ago, I was fairly disappointed to see that the Ng Eng Teng Gallery was closed, temporary. I read that the Ng Eng Teng gallery was closed for the installation of new works.

The consoling part was that there was a section in the museum that displayed some of the works by Ng Eng Teng. The collection on display was way lesser than what I had seen several years ago, and I could only be thankful that such arrangements was temporary.

My favourite section of the NUS Museum continues to be the Ng Eng Teng collection, perhaps because I find it easier to relate to Ng Eng Teng's work. Furthermore, I find the collections of Ng Eng Teng's works tend to have a more consistent and congruent theme compared to the works from the museum's other collections.

Admittedly, I have had fond memories of the Ng Eng Teng Gallery. I regularly visited the Ng Eng Teng Gallery at least once a week when it was located nearby the Central Library of NUS. Each time I visited it, I would get inspired by at least one of the works. I still remember being greeted by Ng Eng Teng's Freedom Child every time I visited the gallery when it was located nearby the Central Library. Given its relatively good collection of Ng Eng Teng's works, it was rather disappointing that the gallery did not get as many visitors as it should deserve.

There is something quite sensual and aesthetically pleasing about Ng Eng Teng's works. Viewing his works also reminds of the days when I had to read up about his work and his life as an artist when I was taking Art History at Secondary School level. Looking back, I am glad that it was a must to study Art History then. I realised that art can be better appreciated if one were to understand the context in which it was created, and one way to understand the context was to study Art History.

If appreciating the context would to be important, then it would be a must for me to include a short section about Ng Eng Teng (1934 - 2001) in this post first:

As best as I can recall, Ng Eng Teng made his mark as a sculptor. Ng Eng Teng is inspired by the human condition and its many nuances, and perhaps that is why:

"The human figure remains Eng Teng's principal source of inspiration and, no matter how abstract, his works, from the earliest, tentative explorations to these mature, masterful creations, always retain some link with figuration. (view source)"

It hence brings me much delight to share with you Ng Eng Teng's Red Face. In this work, the artist turns the head upside down with lips pointing upwards. This defies the customary presentation of the head, and I find it quite cool and humourous. It also challenged the viewer to see things beyond the conventional perspectives. I personally find this work very interesting, and that the lips have been very well shaped. So are the eyes.

The maquette of The Climb also caught my attention. I had seen the actual life-size sculpture of The Climb near HDB Hub. It was actually a work commissioned by the Housing Development Board for the then HDB headquarters in Bukit Merah, Singapore.

The maquette of The Climb.

Life size sculpture of The Climb, now located near HDB Hub

The maquette of Wealth and Contentment also caught my eye. I remember that when I was a young child, the life-size sculpture of Wealth stood right at Plaza Singapura. In those days, I remember that the departmental retail store Yaohan was still in operation. My mother would take me and my younger brother there, and I remember there was a section in the then Yaohan departmental store for children to play Legos bricks.

To be honest, at that age, I won't go specially to Plaza Singapura to see the sculptures. Yet, it would be difficult to miss Wealth and Contentment since they are relatively large and were placed at fairly prominent spots of the then Plaza Singapura. As such, when my Art History teacher first gave us a lecture on Ng Eng Teng's Wealth and Contentment, I could almost instantaneously recognise that they were the sculptures located at the then Plaza Singapura.

A photo of Plaza Singapura from the archives. PhotoCD Number: 19990001300, Image Number: 0035. Photo taken from Access to Archives Online, Singapore.

At the NUS Museum, I read that Wealth was commissioned by DBS Land for Plaza Singapura and later it was donated to NUS in 1997. Wealth now stands just outside the University Cultural Centre of NUS. Personally, I prefer the sculpture Contentment to Wealth.

Maquettes of Wealth and Contentment.

I recommend that one should check out Ng Eng Teng's Mother and Child series. It is one of my favourite series from Ng Eng Teng's works. There was only one sculpture from the series that I saw when I was at the NUS Museum about more than a month ago. I find that there is a nice sense of sensitivity in the way that Ng Eng Teng dealt with the subject matter of "Mother and Child". The lines of the sclptures from this series tend to show a kind of tenderness and nurturing love.

Madonna & Child II (1990). Bronze.

If you like "Mother and Child" series, I would strongly recommend that you could check out the "Father and Child" series. Sad to say, there was no work from this series on display when I last visited the NUS Museum. The "Father and Child" series by the late Ng Eng Teng demonstrates paternal love, and what I like about this series is that it features the playful moments in father-child relationship. I hope that this series would be featured some day.

For those who enjoy seeing works that are more abstract in nature, try checking out Ng Eng Teng's Torso-to-Face series. I find it one of the fascinating series by Ng Eng Teng. Those torso-like sculptures actually look like faces. I think there is quite a lot of creativity in visualising and transforming torso-like sculptures into face-look sculptures.

Just simply see Cobra I right below. Do you find that the torso-like chest looks quite like a face with eyes?

Cobra I, (1997). This work belongs to a sculptural series that emerged after 1994 from Ng Eng Teng's Torso-to-Face drawings.

And if you have a liking for even more abstract works, you may like Acrobat I, (1994).

Some of you may be awed by Ng Eng Teng's subdued mastery of sculpture forms, and if you wish to know the secrets behind how he achieved such mastery, be sure to read this article: A Short Note on Dr Ng Eng Teng by Lim Tai Wei.

Meantime, I shall look forward to the reopening of the Ng Eng Teng gallery. I hope that would come soon.

Information on the museum:

NUS Museum
University Cultural Centre Annex
50 Kent Ridge Crescent
National University of Singapore
Singapore 119279

Tel: (65) 65164 617 / 6

Opening Hours
10am to 5pm (Mondays to Saturdays)
Closed on Sundays and Public Holidays

Admission is FREE


Ng Eng Teng: An Overview
Ng Eng Teng Gallery
The Sculpture of Ng Eng Teng: A Selected List

Also visit:
NUS Museum
Restoration and Repair to the Late Dr. Ng Eng Teng's Sculpture, Contentment 1974 at NUS, UCC.
Wealth and Contentment just outside University Cultural Centre

Sunday, March 04, 2007

At the National Library of Singapore: Lim Boon Keng: A Life to Remember

A few weeks ago, I was at the National Library of Singapore, and visited the exhibition: Lim Boon Keng: A Life to Remember.

This exhibition held in conjunction with the launch of the reprint of Dr Lim's seminal work, The Chinese Crisis from Within, commemorates the 50th anniversary of Dr Lim's death in January 1957.

To be honest, I have never read Dr Lim's book The Chinese Crisis from Within. I have only read briefly about Lim Boon Keng from my secondary school history textbooks. I suppose he must have contributed a great deal to the society because I know that there is a road that is named after him.

At the exhibition, I was impressed to find out that not only was Dr Lim Boon Keng a medical doctor by training, he was a legislator, scholar, educator, entrepreneur, community leader, social reformer and philanthropist.

Visitors to the exhibition can expect to learn about the early life of Lim Boon Keng. Born on 18 Oct 1869, Lim Boon Keng was a Straits-born Chinese. Life was not a bed of roses for Lim Boon Keng. When Lim Boon Keng was about 12 years old, his father, who was the sole-breadwinner of the family passed away. In normal circumstances in those days, one could imagine that Lim Boon Keng would have to leave school and help support his family, but thanks to the intervention of RW Hullett, he need not have to do so. Who's RW Hullet? You can find out a little more about him at the exhibition. I suppose behind every successful talent is someone who is wise enough recognise and give support to the talented person.

One can also learn about how Lim Boon Keng became the first Chinese in Singapore to win the Queen's Scholarship. There was a short section that provided information about the Queen's Scholarship. I learnt that the Queen's Scholarship was initiated and established by the Straits Settlements Governor Sir Cecil Clementi Smith to enable outstanding students from the Straits Settlements to complete their studies in the United Kingdom.

I also found out that Lim Boon Keng had written several other publications. He had even completed an English translation of the poem Li Sao by the poet Qu Yuan. It impresses me that Lim Boon Keng could set aside time to contribute to the academic and literary world despite him having so many other roles to play.

Visitors can also look forward to learn about the contributions that Lim Boon Keng has made as a legislator, a political reformer, a social reformer, an entrepreneur and more at the exhibition.

In his efforts to persuade fellow Chinese to give up the bad habit of smoking habit, I learnt that Lim Boon Keng gave a series of public lectures between 1893 to 1895 so as to campaign against opium smoking. In 1906, together with his future brother-in-law, Dr Yin Suat Chuan, Lim Boon Keng founded the Anti-Opium Society and opened an opium refuge centre that offered free treatment for the opium addicts.

I would think that his battle against opium smoking would be a very tough one during those times. One must bear in mind that the government then would have a stake in the opium trade as it is a source of revenue for the government in those days. The opium trade fetched such profitable returns that from 1898 to 1906, the average annual revenue from opium was 49% of the total income (view source). Basically, anyone fighting against the cause might be mistakenly seen as trying to reduce the government's revenue. Furthermore, in those days, the opium trade has the support of the then government.

Lim Boon Keng was also concerned about the education for young girls. From the exhibition panel right below, one can learn that Lim Boon Keng, together with Song Ong Siang and others, started the first English school exclusively for Chinese girls. Interestingly for me, the school that was set up in 1899 was located at Hill Street, right where the Central Fire Station is located today.

There is a lot of information about the life of Lim Boon Keng that can be found at the exhibition. I recommend that visitors set enough time aside to read and reflect upon the various materials. What you get to see on this post are just merely a fraction of the exhibition.

I was particularly interested with one section of the exhibition that touches on Lim Boon Keng last years during the Japanese Occupation and his appointment as the President of the Overseas Chinese Association. During the Japanese Occupation, the Chinese community and businese leaders were forced to cooperate under the auspices of the Overseas Chinese Association to raise a $50 million gift for the Japanese. I think Lim Boon Keng must have been caught in a difficult position. While he practised passive resistance by hardly taking part in the activities of the Overseas Chinese Association, he still had to appear outwardly a supporter of the Japanese Military Administration.

Photograph showing key members of the Overseas Chinese Association.

In all, I felt inspired by Lim Boon Keng's zest for learning, and his passion in advocating for the causes that he believes in.

I find it was quite apt to hold the exhibition at the library. Afterall, the exhibition was held in conjunction with the launch of the reprint of The Chinese Crisis from Within. I suppose visitors to the exhibition can conveniently enquire about the book shortly after their visit to the exhibition.

Do check out this exhibition. Admission is free.

Information on the exhibition

The exhibition, Lim Boon Keng: A Life to Remember will be held at the National Library of Singapore, 100 Victoria Street, from 24 January - 18 March 2007, at Level 9 Promenade.

According to a source, there will be free guided tours available at 2 pm, from Mondays to Fridays.

Watch snippets of the launch event here:


You may also like to read:

Footnote: The post is written specially for my friend, Mystic. I think she might be interested in learning about the life of Lim Boon Keng and his various contributions to the society.