• Issue
  • May 01, 2022

Singapore: Chua Mia Tee

CHUA MIA TEE, Epic Poem of Malaya, 1955, oil on canvas, 105.5 × 125 cm. All images courtesy the National Gallery Singapore.

The National Gallery Singapore (NGS)’s latest survey on Chua Mia Tee, “Directing the Real,” and its 2020–21 Georgette Chen retrospective, “At Home in the World,” form a pair of counterpoints. The two exhibitions, of mid-20th-century figures who loom large in Singapore’s established art-historical narrative, presented starkly divergent visions of the country in the pivotal years that led up to, and followed, its independence: Chua’s laboring bodies and palimpsestic urban textures contrast Chen’s academically inflected still-lifes and idyllic landscapes; his sensitivity to the subaltern condition and sociopolitical change, informed by a realist idiom, differs from her celebration of the tropical and the traditional, articulated through a picturesque visual language; his works possess an ideological heft, hers reflect formalist concerns. The work of one has aged better than the other.