Artist: Chua Ek Kay (b. 1947, China; d. 2008, Singapore)
Title: Moonlight of Borobudur
Medium: Ink and colour on paper
Dimensions: 96.5 x 90 cm
Credit Line: Gift of the Artist 2006, Collection of SMU
Location: Lee Kong Chian School of Business Level 5
Chua Ek Kay (1947-2008) was one of Singapore’s leading contemporary Chinese ink painters. Through practice and theory that were in constant dialogue with 17th-century artist Shitao and 20th-century masters such as Huang Binhong, he evolved a robust personal take on the ink aesthetics. Lived experiences and sensibilities were echoed in his art and his active engagement in cultural discourse. He was deeply concerned with his own time and context and considered postmodernism, multicultural Singapore and critical regionalism in Southeast Asia in his writings, depictions of places and engagement with the arts community. Also a poet and calligrapher, his art is among the most celebrated in Singapore and his art historical importance is now receiving international recognition.
Born in China, Chua came to Singapore with his family in the 1950s. Here he studied Chinese ink painting under Fan Chang Tien. In 1991, he was the first Chinese ink painter to win the United Overseas Bank Painting of the Year Award. He later took up formal training in contemporary art, receiving a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Tasmania in 1994 and a Master of Arts (Honours) in Visual Arts from the University of Western Sydney in 1995. He was awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1999.
One of Chua's most enduring themes was Singapore city streets. It was a subject with personal resonance for him, having lived in a shophouse along Upper Serangoon Road in the 1950s and attended Catholic High School on Queen Street in the 1960s. In these paintings, Chua often used sombre ink with occasional washes of faint colour. People were seldom depicted, giving the monochromatic paintings a sense of alienation and ambivalence as he witnessed the Singapore landscape undergo transition.
This artwork is from the Street Scenes Collection, a suite of 30 paintings donated by the artist in 2006 and currently housed at Lee Kong Chian School of Business. The Street Scenes Collection spans two decades of Chua’s artistic practice, from 1986 to 2006, and pictures narrow alleyways, temples of worship, old shophouses and historic sites in Singapore, Kathmandu, Yogyakarta and Jiangnan. In later years, he was keener on evoking feelings rather than rendering actual physical architecture. Particularly, his depictions of Singapore city streets—from Little India to Ann Siang Hill—are suffused with feelings of melancholy as he captures history passing through the once-familiar streets he has seen grown, thrived, and waned over time.
Kwok, K. C., Wang, Z., & Yeo, Y. K. (2018). Chua Ek Kay: A long way from home. Singapore Management University.
Lee, J. (Ed.). (2007). Chua Ek Kay: Singapore street scenes, evoking memories. Singapore Management University.
Low, S. W. (2016, August 21). Chua Ek Kay and the spirit of Singapore’s streets. The Straits Times. https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/chua-ek-kay-and-the-spirit-of-singapores-streets
Low, S. W. (Ed.). (2015). Chua Ek Kay: After the rain. National Gallery Singapore.