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Art-felt tribute to Lee Kuan Yew
WITH the first anniversary of Lee Kuan Yew's coming up on March 23, a couple of artists - and one travel company - have been inspired to commemorate Singapore's first prime minister in their own ways.
For art collector and self-taught artist Teng Jee Hum, his reflections on Mr Lee for the last five years spurred him on to making over 90 paintings which revolve around the Singapore experience and identity; while graphic artist Sharlene Leong combined her love of quotes and Mr Lee's portraiture; and Tribe has launched a walking tour which focuses on the personal life of Mr Lee.
The common thread running through these projects is the sense that Singapore saw Mr Lee's softer side in the last few years of his role as minister mentor, and his character as well as deeds which had inspired the ordinary Singaporean.
"To me, my favourite quote of Mr Lee's is the one where he said: "You begin your journey not knowing where it will take you. You have plans, you have dreams, but every now and again you have to take uncharted roads, face impassable mountains, cross treacherous rivers, be blocked by landslides and earthquakes. That's the way my life has been," shares Ms Leong, a graphic designer who loves typology and good quotes. The name of her company, Word Your Story, gives an inkling of how important the LaSalle graduate deems words to be.
Ms Leong first participated in a group show on Mr Lee last September, where she drew his portraits accompanied by some of his famous quotes. She then held a solo show, and this March, has put on another 15 of his works on exhibit and sale.
"After his passing, there was so much information on him and anecdotal stories - I think those have been very inspiring," shares the artist.
Mr Lee's softer side and tales of his private life that were revealed through his memoirs and media interviews also inspired local travel company, Tribe, to design a 31/2-hour tour focusing on Mr Lee's private life and what helped shape his political views. About Mr Lee features his growing up years, his Peranakan background and food tastes, his love story with his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, his political ward in Tanjong Pagar and the Old Parliament House.
"The public knows much about his public persona but there's definitely an interest in his private life as well, more so towards his later years and after his passing," says Jason Loe, co-founder of Tribe.
The tour which covers central Singapore to the East will also reveal those character traits of the prime minister's that have made the most impression on Tribe's founders and guides - such as his personal discipline and frugality and his views on health.
Tribe, which officially registered earlier this year, focuses on the experiential tour. "This tour is for locals as well as foreigners - as we think all can learn something new and take away fresh insights on Mr Lee as well," says Mr Loe. For the month of March, 100 per cent of the proceeds will go to charity. After that, 10 per cent of the proceeds for subsequent months will be donated.
Meanwhile, art collector and self-taught artist Teng Jee Hum has launched an art book featuring 92 paintings which are related to Mr Lee and how he shaped Singapore - because he was such a big influence on Mr Teng's life as a Singaporean.
The works actually feature Mr Teng's own interpretation of much of Singapore events, but he was spurred to make these paintings after the death of his father in 2010. "I think in a way I looked for a father figure in Mr Lee," he shares, as his views of the former prime minister somehow merged with Mr Teng's fascination with superheros while he was growing up. He wrote: "He (LKY) qualifies every inch as a hero by changing the lives of the 2.2 million people through a power display of persuasive speech-making, visionary leadership, astute political moves, economic strategies (to name just a few)."
The works haven't been exhibited before, but Mr Teng decided instead to have it published as a book, with essays by notable curators such as Seng Yu Jin, senior curator at The National Gallery, Jason Wee of Grey Projects and Mei Huang, a PhD art student from China now studying in Barcelona.
Having worked at GIC in his 20s, when Mr Lee was on the GIC Board, Mr Teng recalls having attended meetings chaired by Mr Lee before, about four or five times. "It was very awe-inspiring because of his intellect," he recalls. From 2010, Mr Teng's very first painting of Mr Lee was as Superman, and his last painting was the Singapore flag at half mast after Mr Lee's death.
"Ultimately, the book, Godsmacked, is really my way of telling my personal story," shares Mr Teng, who is open to having an exhibition of his paintings in the next year or so, after the book launch.
Even as the government has just revealed new guidelines about the usage of Mr Lee's image and name to prevent commercial exploitation, Singaporeans from all walks of life will still find ways to express their viewpoints. "Just knowing how hard Mr Lee had worked to build Singapore for Singaporeans, I needed to do something," shares Tribe's Mr Loe, summing up the common feeling shared by all the artists.
"Remembering LKY" is Sharlene Leong's solo exhibition of her paintings, held from now until March 31, at the basement of Palais Renaissance, open for viewing from 10am-10pm. For more information, please go to www.wordyourstory.com.
"About Mr Lee" is a tour by Tribe which will be held on weekends in March from 9.30am to 1pm and 1.30pm-5pm, at S$56 for adults. To register, please go to http://www.tribe-tours.com/. "Godsmacked" by Teng Jee Hum is published by Ethos Books, and will be available for sale at S$35 (before GST) at Kinokuniya, Times, MPH and Booktique by end March