The 22 artists from Singapore present The Nanyang Spirit at Delhi’s Metropolitan Hotel
Ambica Gulati
It was a breezy March evening and the poolside of Delhi’s plush Metropolitan Hotel was a flutter of activity. Twenty two artists from Singapore were painting live, showcasing the Nanyang spirit of a tropical paradise. In sync with the breezy sublime ambience of the poolside, canvases of their works showcased their unique styles. As some were migrants, having experienced the tensions between tradition and modernity, it enabled them to incorporate the traditional rural elements into their painting styles. Their artworks, often a blend of multiple stylistic techniques of the East and West, resulted in a varied body of works unified by their focus on Southeast Asian subjects.
Watching the painters were the High Commissioner of Singapore H.E. Lim Thuan Kuan and Clara Yap, Area Director, India and Bangladesh, Singapore Tourism Board amongst other dignitaries.
Talking about the exhibition at the hotel’s Artspice Gallery, Yap says, “We would like to do this more often as it exhibits Singapore’s changing artscape. There is a lot of local flavour and most of the artists are visiting India for the first time. So it’s a good way to have an exchange between both countries.”
Artist Wu Teng painting live
What is the Nanyang spirit?
The Chinese phrase ‘nanyang’ means south seas, stirring visions of tropical paradise. And this was the Nanyang style, practised by migrant Chinese painters in Singapore in the 1950s with their portrayal of Bali’s rural scenes. The attempt to define this art movement was made by art historians, Redza Piyadasa and T.K. Sabapathy, in 1979 as a tribute to the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).
The pioneers of the Nanyang Style are said to be Liu Kang, Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng and Georgette Chen.
The primary medium of Nanyang Style is Chinese ink and colour or oil on canvas. A simple use of colours and lines, the art style reflects a mix of Western, Chinese and indigenous beliefs and practices.
What caught my eye
Each of the 22 canvases had something to offer, but I was pulled to two—Veils by Ang Hiong Chiok and Royal Hotel Corner by Tung Yue Nang. The two were as different as a bean and a stalk.
Royal Hotel Corner

Lots of lines, black and white tones and Chinese ink drew my eye. The painter, Tung Yue Nang, a vibrant man who has been to India earlier. He sits and meditates among people, places and nature. Sitting for hours, he makes at least 10-12 overlapping scenes and then combines it all into his canvas. What he likes about India—the holy city of Varanasi. “I even had a cup of tea on the roadside there, nothing happened,” laughs the artist. He has spent time in the desert of Rajasthan and he gets inspired by all the things he sees around him.

Artist Tung Yue Nang
Tung Yue Nang’s interest and practice in Tao Te Ching philosophy has had a influence on his artistic pursuits. Initially focusing on traditional Chinese painting, Tung’s artistic philosophy of reconciling art with life, enabled him to combine Western art concepts and media with Chinese art styles and expression. His experiment with acrylic and mixed media paintings eventually led to his One series of paintings, and later his Peranakan series. His latest painting exploration in dry brush Chinese painting culminates in the Journal series. Simply using Chinese ink, brush and rice paper, Tung captures Singapore scenes exactly as they appear right now in the present, because “Today is Yesterday’s future and Tomorrow’s history”.
Chiok’s fruit and its covering had a veil over it. It was so much about shyness, sensuality and keeping a low key picture. It was like a covering, a thin layer which was trying to conceal something. It was one of the loveliest paintings I had seen in a long time. It was unlike any still painting that we see. And talking to the graceful artist I realised that it was old-world Chinese culture and philosophy speaking through the canvas. The veil itself was poetry in motion. The soft strokes spoke of soft disposition. And I had caught it correct as I spoke with Chiok.
Artist Ang Hiong Chiok 
Born in Fujian, China in 1947, he graduated from the Singapore Academy of Arts in 1976. Explaining the thought behind the painting, Chiok said that the mangosteen (not pomegranate!) was the queen of fruits in Singapore. It is found in tropical areas and is a sweet, cool fruit. The transluscent covering showed the security the fruit needs. It is veil, the balance of the yin and the yang. And as each fruit is different, the many fruits are depictions of different personalities.
Chiok’s Mangosteenseries in 2005 inspired many poets to pen down some heart-rending poems. And as he sent me the book, Mangosteen Fantasy, all the way from his home, I would like to share an excerpt of the poem:
Veils by Gareth Rosser
A part, in the delicate layers of the strange,
veils rain
Never the same. Journeys
that crave to remain.
In a fluid gap, urges drop. Lost to destiny’s fold of reward, untold
(Mangosteen Fanstasy, Publisher: Cape of Good Hope Art Society, Singapore)
Chiok’s works have been exhibited in seven solo exhibitions in Singapore and Paris, France between 1993 and 2012. He has been part of group exhibitions in Singapore, Taiwan, Malaysia and Hongkong. He has also received Creative Visual Art Award from Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Tan Tze Chor Art Award from Singapore Art Society and Certificate of Distinction for Painting of the Year Competition from UOB.