Pouring her all into dancing with stone

24 June 2019
The Straits Times, Life!, Page D3

Cataract surgery two months ago did not slow down sculptor Han Sai Por. Despite the doctor’s advice to avoid heavy lifting, she was deep into preparations for her new solo exhibition. Dance With The Wind, which opens at iPreciation on July 5, does not have the monumental stone works Han is known for. But it does have more than 10 sculptures and 12 acrylic on canvas works. Prices start at $30,000. The 76-year-old Cultural Medallion recipient says she avoided using machines after her surgery, which meant she had to manually polish the sculptures, a more timeconsuming process. Still, she was heaving the pieces, which weigh between 12kg and 15kg each. It is hard to believe that the petite artist has enough strength to wrestle such weights. The new works are hewn from a type of white stone called han bai yu, which is harder than marble and costs about $5,933 for one cubic metre. In comparison, the best Carrera marble from Italy can cost up to $30,000 per cubic metre. Han discovered the material about 10 years ago in China when she saw young Chinese artists working in the medium. The soft-spoken artist adds wryly that when she found out then that one cubic metre cost US$2,000 to US$3,000 (S$2,700 to S$4,000), “I said, ‘Wah, so expensive.’”

But she fell in love with the purity of the stone. She adds that crystals in it also lend it an iridescent shimmer. The elegant, organic whorls of her new works, inspired by palm fronds, glisten with an ethereal sparkle, thanks to these crystals. There are also several stainless steel works which are “much lighter”, she adds. Steel pieces, she muses, interact differently with the spaces they are displayed in. The sculptural works in pristine white and polished metal are a contrast to the dynamic black-andwhite canvases. “I feel that black is a very strong, very powerful colour. You can see the energy in it. I paint with black and white so I can focus on the energy and movement without the distraction of colour.” The paintings, fluid with movement, were inspired by her observations of the effect of wind in forests and the power of typhoon storms in southern China, where she often travels to for work.

Despite a career filled with prizes and accolades, she confesses to worrying when she has to fulfil big commissions. She demurs when asked why she chose sculpting: “It’s very hard to give an answer. I myself don’t know.” She recalls that when she was studying fine art in England, she was told her teachers were good at three-dimensional works, so she took up sculpting. And there was a stoneyard, so there was a lot of material to practise on. After a lifetime’s practice, she conveys a deep respect of the demands of her craft. “Sculpture is physical. You can touch and walk around it. After you feel the sweat, the hard work, you feel that making a piece of art is not easy. This is not my choice, but when I have to do it, I put all my energy into it,” she says.

The ’accidental’ artist
Born on July 19, 1943, in Singapore during the Japanese Occupation, Han Sai Por was one of six children. Her uneducated mother scavenged at Changi Beach to support the family and her father was often ill. But Han remembers a “happy and free” childhood, building sand figurines at Changi. She first encountered the works of Michelangelo when she was 10, in a book her mother bought for her.

  • Graduated from Teachers’ Training College in 1968 and worked as a full-time teacher. She took part-time courses at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (Nafa) from 1975 to 1977
  • Left Singapore in 1979 to study at the East Ham College of Art and Wolverhampton College of Art, where she earned her BA (Hon) in Fine Art. She worked as a waitress, hotel maid and cook to support herself during her studies. She also earned money sketching tourists outside Paris’ Pompidou Centre.
  • Returned to Singapore in 1983 and was one of two teachers who kicked off the Art Elective Programme at Nanyang Girls’ High School.
  • Took up part-time teaching at Nafa and LaSalle-SIA College of Art to devote more time to her art. She also lectured part-time at the National Institute of Education and Nanyang Technological University from 1994 to 1995.
  • Held her first solo exhibition at the National Museum Art Gallery in 1993.
  • Awarded the Cultural Medallion in 1995. Since then she has collected a slew of other awards, including the top prize at the 11th Triennale India in 2005, the Outstanding City Sculpture Award in China in 2006 and the Leonardo Award for Sculpture at Italy’s Chianciano Art Biennale in 2015.

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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.