Chua Mia Tee - HCIS3AEP2013

Chua Mia Tee
Born 1931 in China
Family migrated to Singapore when he was six
Graduated from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts
One of the pioneer practitioners of social realism
Dedicated his life to realistic art
Member of the Equator Art Society
• Opposes the formalist and newer "Western" trends which were regarded as going against the
grain of the development of a national identity in art
Equator Art Society
• We deeply believe that art, like any other field of study, can only be
achieved through constant and serious practice and study. Unfortunately
there are artists who are only trying to copy Western art which has not the
least of our national flavour. This certainly is not the art that serves to help
uphold our national dignity and to help in our nation building.
- ["Foreword" 1965]
Themes/ Genres
Social realist work
Reflection of real life, of societal truths
Easily accessible by viewer
Common themes
• Anti-colonialism
• National identity
• Local scenes
• Faithful renderer of national history
Social Realism (in general)
• Naturalistic depiction
• Reflecting realities of life and society
• Often focusing on everyday conditions of working classes and the poor
Gustave Courbet – The Stone Breakers, 1849, oil on canvas
Social Commentary
~ Ways of Life
Singapore Art (1950s to 1970s):
• Used their art to depict ways of life during
particular periods of time. These artworks record
various lifestyles and daily experiences of people
at work and at play.
• Understand the different ways daily experiences
are interpreted and used as sources of inspiration
by artists.
Chua Mia Tee
National Language Class
Oil on canvas
112 x 153 cm
National Language
Class (1959)
• Originally titled “Bahasa Melayu Class”
• A Malay teacher teaching Malay Language to a class of nine
Chinese students
• Words on the board can be translated into “What is your
name? Where do you live?”
• Painted during a period when the nation was fighting for selfgovernance
National Language
Class (1959)
• National Identity
• Social commentary on a nation’s aspirations in the anticolonialism era
• Malay was a language that suggested sovereignty
• National identity transcends ethnic identity
• “What is your name? Where do you live?”
• The interaction between the female student and the
standing male student
National Language
Class (1959)
• Tensions
• Different expressions on the different students
• Dissatisfaction at imposition of a 'National Language‘?
Chua Mia Tee
Workers in a Canteen
1974. Oil on canvas. Size: 89 x 126 cm.
Realistic: Almost
photographic in
Chua Mia Tee
To depict the subject,
just as it is.
Workers in a Canteen
1974. Oil on canvas. Size: 89 x 126 cm.
No idealizing or
Where is this place? How do you know?
Who are the people?(Nationality?Occupation?etc.)
What are they doing?
Directional Lines?
Repetition: What visuals/images are repeated?
Suggestion of space/depth? Perspective?
Chua Mia Tee
Workers in a Canteen
Subject matter of the
- Noisy, crowded scene in a canteen; workers having lunch (Crammed with workers
who fill the space)
- People eat, talk/chat, find seats and queue giving a sense of a very full and active
- Workers, mainly males, are dressed similarly, in beige overalls (their uniform) and
caps. Some have towels around their neck; together with their grimy suntanned face
suggest that they have been hard at work under the sun.
- Table: Chinese bowls and chopsticks; suggestion of them being Asian
- Sense of camaraderie amongst the workers: figure in front has his arm around the
shoulder of neighbour; workers are chatting
Chua Mia Tee
Workers in a Canteen
Analysis of the work:
-Space is crammed; feeling = bustle & activity. Artist makes use of depth and
perspective to add to the feel of urgency and realism. Detail adds to the overall effect.
- Use of contrasting tone to give a sense of depth. Light flickers across the workers
creating areas of sharp tonal contrast.
- Colours used are sombre; almost monochrome brown shades
- The light effect centres the eye on the lighter toned central figure and tones darken
towards the edges of the painting, a strategy to keep the viewer engaged in the work.
- Use of repetition in the figures and diagonal (suggested by the tables & workers)
creates a dynamic composition and visual noise that adds to the atmosphere of the
Chua Mia Tee
Workers in a Canteen
Why do you think the artist
chose to depict such
subject matter?
- A social commentary. It shows the realistic conditions of factory life and how the
lunch break is at once a very busy and active moment but also a relief from work.
- Documentation of the arrival of migrant workers to Singapore.
- The work does not pass a judgement about conditions apart from the fact that the
scene is cramped and drab working clothes predominated making the people seem
less individual but actually part of a larger concern as a cog in the industrial process.
- Subtle comment on the modernization that’s taking place and the erosion of
traditional occupation.
Chua Mia Tee - Workers in a Canteen, 1974, Oil on canvas
Chua Mia Tee - Vanishing Scene of Boat Quay, 1981, Oil on board
Vanishing Scene
of Boat Quay
• Influenced by his childhood experiences
• Grim, dull colours – Forlorn façade of building, Somber
• Minimal movement in the painting – sense of stillness
• Reveals how the passing of time and advancement of society
results in the abandonment of the old
Chua Mia Tee – Old Chinatown, 1980, oil on canvas
Old Chinatown
Bright, vibrant colours
Cultural vibrancy and spirit of old Chinatown
Lives of the people then
Sense of nostalgia
Chua Mia Tee – Singapore River, oil on board
Chua Mia Tee – Waterfall, oil on board

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