Reach for Freedom:
Works by Chng Seok Tin
14 to 30 April 2023
A face twists in pain, a figure leaps through a maelstrom, and a pair of hands reaches towards the sky:
Not Gallery presents Reach for Freedom: Works by Chng Seok Tin, an exhibition of 12 stirring print and mixed media artworks by the Cultural Medallion winner.
Throughout her career, Chng produced art rich in symbolism and spanning diverse mediums from print to sculpture—creating, as curator Constance Sheares once wrote, “in the area between abstraction and figuration.” Rather than depicting external appearances, her works represent the unseen world of thought and feeling.
Across Chng’s oeuvre, two key threads occur and recur: suffering and freedom. Resonating through the personal, political, and universal realms, these contrasting themes reflect Chng’s own life as well as her investment in social issues of her time.
One of Chng’s deepest artistic preoccupations was the downtrodden condition of man, particularly in a modern, urban society. Plagued by materialism and competition, alienated from nature and crowded into cities, humanity seemed to be undergoing a kind of death of the soul.
Conditions of hardship are reflected in works such as No Exit I and II (1985) or 脸谱之一 (1987), where human faces piled on top of one another are contorted into expressions of anguish. One even lifts its hands to its cheeks in a reference to Edvard Munch’s The Scream.
In her practice, Chng also responded to specific events, such as the streams of refugees fleeing Vietnam or the atrocities of Cambodia’s totalitarian regime. Environmental destruction, war, and poverty were also among her concerns. While some of her works point towards particular issues, others take a more universal approach to themes of oppression and suffering.
Chng herself was well-acquainted with feelings of pain and despair. In the catalogue to the 1989 exhibition Works by Chng Seok Tin, she writes of the “unbearable bitterness and frustration” she felt after surgery for a brain abscess caused her to lose most of her vision the year before.
Yet, both Chng and her view of humanity are characterised not just by suffering but by the ability to rise above it. Supported by family, friends, and students, Chng experimented with new methods and mediums and developed ways to continue making art. Her work does not consist merely of despondent visions: freedom, hope, and resilience are equally if not more important.
Works like 迈步从头越 (1994) teem with lively movement and joyful colour. In the Sounds of Vermont series, created during an overseas residency, she returns to the theme of nature which dominated her early career and which serves as a constant source of beauty and hope. In Reaching Out (1994), a figure strains upwards from the murky waters, like a lotus from the mud, towards a shining moon.
Taken together, Chng’s works remind us never to abandon ideals of hope and resilience, no matter how dire the circumstances. Intense and powerful, they call us to continue reaching towards the undefined yet luminous future.
Artist, writer, and educator Chng Seok Tin (1946 – 2019) trained under renowned printmakers in Europe and the U.S. before returning to Singapore in the mid-1980s, where she taught at La Salle and the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
Though widely recognised as one of Singapore’s foremost printmakers, Chng also embraced painting, sculpture, collage, and assemblage in her practice, and wrote and published lyrics, prose, and essays. Her art contains rich social and symbolic content and draws inspiration from both Western and Eastern cultural traditions.
The Cultural Medallion winner is also an inductee into the Singapore Women’s Hall of Fame and the first Singaporean to present a solo exhibition at the headquarters of the United Nations.
Mon, Tue, Thu & Sat: 12nn to 6pm, Sun: 1pm to 5pm, Wed & Fri: by appointment
Exhibition venue: #02-41, Bras Basah Complex
+65 8900 3807
Sound of Vermont No. 39$2,500.00
Once Upon a Time 10 忆往昔之十$6,250.00
Stride Forward and Overcome 迈步从头越$4,000.00
Sound of Vermont No. 21$2,500.00
Double Blessing 福慧双修$3,250.00
Gone with the Water 浪淘尽千古风流人物$6,800.00
Frames, within and without 框里框外$20,000.00
No Exit I$6,800.00
Love for Jiu-Zai I 九寨情之一$3,250.00
Kindness and Frugal$3,250.00
No Exit II$6,800.00