Photo: Singapore Artist Lim Yew Kuan (Left) and Ms Teresa Teo Lay Yan (Right), Managing Director of Dove Doodle Pte Ltd. Oil painting by Artist Lim in the background.

By Teresa Teo Lay Yan

 ‘Without NAFA, there won’t be the birth of Nanyang art.’ said Cultural Art Medallion recipient, Artist Lim Yew Kuan.

Artist Lim Yew Kuan, a Singapore Cultural Art Medallion, was one of the art teachers who taught me Western Art during my art training at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) in the 1980s.He does not just teach art, he imparts values through art teaching and helps his students to think and see beyond art.

Art teachers of his calibre is a dying breed. Most art teaching these days focuses mainly on imparting art skills to prepare students for a job and nothing more.

I was then a part-time NAFA student who worked to support my art course. After graduating with a Certificate in Western Fine Art in 1984, the thought of pursuing my art education at NAFA was out of the question. NAFA only offered full-time Diploma courses at that time with high school fees catered to the more affordable students.

I coincidently met Artist Lim Yew Kuan on three separate occasions since I last graduated from NAFA. I met him twice at his Telok Kurau Studio recently and once at the launching of Singapore Art Society 65th Anniversary in January 2015.

The first thing he asked was, ‘Are you still painting?’ I told him I would love to but due to my secular work and busy earning my keep got the better of me. It is not easy to be a full-time artist, not for pragmatic Singapore. You need a lot of friends and contacts with deep pockets, who are able to appreciate your art, to buy art from you. Art is a want not a need for most pragmatic Singaporeans. For them, putting food on on the table to feed the family, giving money to the poor or earning your first million is far more important than being arty farty.

My art training did not go to waste as I volunteered previously as an art activity instructress at the community centres while holding a secular job then. I later used my art skills when I entered into early childhood teaching before setting up Dove Doodle Pte Ltd.

I believe whatever art skills one has attained earlier in life, it remains transferable and useful. It need not be used only in the art field but applicable to all disciplines.

Artist Lim Yew Kuan is the son of the late Mr Lim Hak Tai (founder of NAFA).He shared with me his late father’s vision at our recent encounter. He said, ‘Without NAFA, there won’t be the birth of ‘Nanyang art’. We would not have evolved and derived at a unique art style we call our very own.’ His words impacted me and set me thinking about my culture, identity and heritage having lived in this tiny island for slightly more than half a century.

We need to preserve this piece of unique culture and heritage of Singapore before it fades away and be long forgotten. A nation’s culture resides in the soul and hearts of its people. We need to do some soul searching and ask ourselves what cultural heritage should we preserve? What does it mean for Singapore’s future?


About the Author:

Ms Teresa Teo Lay Yan is the founder and managing director of Dove Doodle Pte Ltd. She writes for the Company’s blog and engages the community through the visual arts. To learn more about the author, CLICK the ‘Founder’s Profile’.