Culture / Art Republik

Artists in Singapore: Recognising local talents in The Istana Art Collection

Singaporean artists take the spotlight in the Istana Art Collection, which can be viewed during upcoming Istana Open House events in Singapore on 25 June, 30 July and 18 October 2017

Jun 24, 2017 | By Ilyda Chua

Russel Wong, ‘Sunrise from the Presidential Balcony’, 2006. Image courtesy National Heritage Board

In recognition of the local artists featured in the Istana Art Collection, President Tony Tan hosted a tea reception at the Istana on 21 June 2017 to acknowledge their contributions.

Established in 1994, the Istana Collection has today grown to include just under a hundred works by local artists. Featuring renowned artists such as Ong Kim Seng, Lim Yew Kuan and Han Sai Por, the Istana Art Collection includes works spanning generations and genres alike, with just one thing that ties them together — the “Singaporean expression”, as IACAC member Mr Ahmad Mashadi puts it, or the idea of nationhood, cultural expression, and identity.  

“Singapore artists have really made their mark on the world,” says President Tony Tan, expressing his pride for the local artists. In a doorstop interview with the press, he also explained the importance of the Istana as a platform to showcase art to the rest of the world, and Singapore as well. “Art is part of Singapore — it’s part of our soul. It represents our heritage, and what we feel deeply about,” he added.


Acquired and commissioned by the Istana Art Collection Advisory Committee, Mr Mashadi shared that the artworks are selected for not just their cultural and artistic value, but also their suitability to the space.

For instance, ’Istana Garden’, the latest contribution to the Collection, was commissioned specially to fill the niches of the Istana’s Reception Room. A large-scale triptych of colourful batik on cotton, ‘Istana Garden’ features an abstract rendering of the Cattleya orchid, in vivid, dramatic colour. The Cattleya orchid is the largest hybridised species of orchid found in Singapore, and being frequently used as a diplomatic gift to guests in Singapore, is also a symbol of an extension of friendship between countries.

Sarsaki Said, ‘Istana Garden’, 2017

Speaking about his artwork, artist Sarkasi bin Said explained that he took his inspiration from the variability of nature, from the tallest trees to the lowest creepers. “It depicts growth,” he says. Also known as Tzee, he is one of Singapore’s most renowned batik painters and rose to prominence in the 1970s, acquiring the nickname ‘The Baron of Silk’.

Also notable is ‘St. Thomas Walk’, painted by the founder of Nanyang Academy of Fine Art (NAFA), Lim Hak Tai. One of Singapore’s pioneer artists, Lim’s work stands out as being a depiction of NAFA by the founder himself, and contains the elements of the institution itself. The idea of NAFA came from Lim’s desire to combine contemporary and traditional Chinese art, and that same spirit remains visible in the painting.

Lim Hak Tai, ‘St. Thomas Walk’, 1956. Image courtesy National Heritage Board

Amidst such vibrant works, pieces like Iskandar Jalil’s ‘Lagu dan Irama (Lyrics and Rhythm)’ stand out, ironically, in their own quiet sobriety. Earthy and unpretentious, Jalil’s use of organic structure and his signature ‘Iskandar Blue’, a rich yet subtle blue glaze, is a perfect match to his own down-to-earth, no-nonsense demeanor, a throwback to his days as a math and science teacher.

One of Singapore’s first-generation ceramists, Jalil is almost shockingly unsentimental about his works. When asked which of his six exhibited pieces in the Collection he likes best, his response is matter-of-fact: “None of them,” he says, dryly. “I have made hundreds of pots, perhaps over a thousand. These are just a few works out of many, many more.”

Iskandar Jalil, ‘Lagu dan Irama (Lyrics & Rhythm)’, 2015. Image courtesy National Heritage Board

Visitors will be able to view a selection of the Collection during upcoming Istana open house events on 25 June, 30 July and 18 October, in celebration of Hari Raya Puasa, National Day and Deepavali respectively. Other works, including Han Sai Por’s stone sculpture on the Istana Grounds, as well as artworks by Iskandar Jalil, Russel Wong and Sarkasi Said, will be accessible to visitors for a token fee that goes to charity.

ilyda chua

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