Leong Weng Kam, author of NAFA’s 80th anniversary commemorative book ‘Art and Soul: 80 years of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts’.
The history of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts is intertwined with the history of art in Singapore. NAFA is the seedling of art, the cradle of artists. Over the years, it has groomed 13 Cultural Medallion winners and 14 Young Artist Award recipients. To celebrate its 80th anniversary, NAFA has published a commemorative book – Art and Soul: 80 years of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Available in both English and Chinese editions, the book will be launched today. Lianhe Zaobao spoke to author, Mr Leong Weng Kam, Dr Ho Kah Leong, artist Ms Han Sai Por, and NAFA Chairman Ms Low Sin Leng, to take a look back at the academy’s journey over the past 80 years, the challenges it overcame and their hopes for NAFA in the future.
NAFA was incepted in 1938 with only 14 Fine Art students. Today, it offers a wide variety of programmes and courses and sees over 12,000 students pass through its doors annually. However, it wasn’t always a smooth journey for the academy. 40 years ago, NAFA was faced with financial crisis and was on the verge of closing its doors. Mr Leong, who just joined The Straits Times as a reporter then, met Mr Lim Yew Kuan to learn more about the situation. A fundraising movement was initiated by its graduates to sell artworks in a bid to save the school. Commenting on the past times, Mr Lim said that giving up was never an option, no matter how tough it was. Dr Ho Kah Leong, who was the academy’s sixth principal, also shared his memories. He said the move to a purpose-built campus on Bencoolen Street was a historic move. In the past, the lecturers had to shuttle from different locations but now, with a purpose-built and stable campus, they can focus on other more important things. He commented that it is an achievement for the school if it can nurture internationally-renown artists.
Over the past 80 years, the academy had produced numerous famous artists, and 13 of them have contributed greatly to the Singapore arts industry and won the Cultural Medallion awards. A few months ago, they did an exhibition at Shanghai’s Liu Haisu Art Museum for the first time. Artist Ms Han Sai Por said that NAFA is the cradle and bridge of arts and culture between the East and the West. The founder of NAFA is from China and many teachers and artists who taught at NAFA had studied in Europe and America. Thus, they introduced Western art. NAFA has many students and teachers from all over the world and therefore, is a multi-cultural art academy. She hopes that as the academy strives to excel and innovate, it will continue to remember its roots.
Earlier this year, 11-year-old Chloe Chua won the top prize at Menuhin Competition. Next year in January, a new preschool centre at NAFA’s Bencoolen campus will open its doors to children aged 3 to 6 years old. It also has enrichment arts courses for children and teenagers aged 4 to 18. Looking towards the future, NAFA Chairman Ms Low Sin Leng said, “The success of NAFA is attributed to vision defined by our founding principal, Mr Lim Hak Tai and fellow pioneers and the Nanyang spirit. From the beginning, they saw art as a way of responding to the community, as a medium for social commentary. It is this vision that personifies the Nanyang style of art making and its spirit. The Nanyang spirit can be explained as a certain spirit of resilience, curiosity, adventure, creativity, cosmopolitanism and embracing the contemporary. Over the years, while industry needs and trends have changed, our legacy is still deeply connected with this Nanyang spirit. We continue to model our pedagogy with this same spirit, while keeping up with the changing needs and demands of the visual and performing arts industries. Above all, good leadership and a distinguished faculty, many of whom are established arts practitioners themselves, contribute to NAFA’s success as well.”
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Source: Lianhe Zaobao © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.