Huang Yao Retrospective

Showcasing over 60 works including calligraphy, calligraphic paintings, abstract paintings, traditional landscapes, folk art and cartoons by the late artist

Singapore Art Museum Press Release

Opens Friday 13 July 2001 Till 2 September 2001
(Galleries 5,6,7 & 8, Singapore Art Museum)

  (9 July 2001) Singapore Art Museum presents a retrospective exhibition, featuring the works by the late artist, Huang Yao (1914 - 1987), who was a multi-talented artist, and an accomplished scholar, educator and cartoonist. The Guest of Honour of the exhibition is Minister of State for Information & The Arts and Defence, Mr David T E Lim, who will receive the donation on behalf of the Singapore Art Museum on 12 July 2001, 6.30pm, Glass Hall at the Singapore Art Museum.

The exhibition will present a diversity of Huang Yao's artistic practices, ranging from manhua (cartoon), calligraphy, traditional landscape, minsuhua (folk art) and his innovation of chuyunshu (reverse writing) style of Chinese calligraphy as well as his experimentation with wenzi hua (calligraphic paintings) that produced abstract forms. This retrospective exhibition will also showcase landscape paintings from the series of 'Scenes of Vietnam', 'Scenes of Thailand' and 'Scenes of Nanyang'. These works incorporated many local subject matters such as the people and cultural aspects in the region (also known as the Nanyang subject matter) that reflects the late artist's strong affiliation with the Nanyang region.

Born in 1914 in Shanghai, Huang Yao began his artistic career as a cartoonist and created the cartoon character Niu bizi, which he was popularly known for, in works he produced during the 1930s. His cartoons were well-received with the moral content of these stories extolling the goodness of human nature and deploring the evilness of situations.

Being well-versed in Chinese literature, folklore, calligraphy and paintings, Huang Yao applied his knowledge into his artistic practices, in particular, his invention of the calligraphy painting, wenzi hua - which included subject matters such as the different forms of a Chinese character, idioms and renowned Tang and Song poems, and their eventual transformation into abstract forms. Huang Yao also invented a unique method of calligraphic writing style known as chuyun shu (reverse writing) in the 1950s, where he wrote the calligraphy in a reverse order. The written character was written as it would appear, facing the audience instead of the artist. Huang Yao first demonstrated this when he held talks and gave art demonstrations during one of his exhibitions in Kuala Lumpur.

Says Ms Patricia Ong, curator of the exhibition, on how the exhibition has been curated, "The exhibition features a selection of works from both the donation as well as the private collection of the Huang family. The works have been thematically arranged in sections of calligraphy, calligraphic paintings, abstract paintings, traditional landscapes, scenes of Southeast Asia, paintings of children at play and paintings of flok tales and mythology. The exhibition also presents Huang Yao's literary works, manuscripts and other artefacts which will offer the viewer a glimpse of the late artist's intellectual interest and literary engagement in art history and theory."

Besides his diverse artistic talents, Huang Yao was also an accomplished scholar. His renowned academic publication, Xinma huaren zhi (The History of the Chinese in Malaysia and Singapore) was a detailed account of the traditions, customs and practices of overseas Chinese in this region. The research work for the publication took him 10 years (1956 - 1966) to complete, and the work was written from both a historical and social-geographical perspective. To date, this publication remains an important source of documentation of the life of the overseas Chinese in this region.

Huang Yao left China after the war where he worked in Vietnam, Hong Kong and Thailand before finally settling in Malaysia in 1956. During his residence in Malaysia, he was involved in education work up till his retirement towards end-1973. Since then, he focused most of his time on his artistic practices, where he produced huge volumes of works, especially his body of abstract works and wenzi hua (calligraphic paintings) between 1974 to 1978, after which he moved to Kuala Lumpur and continued with his artistic practices up till his death in 1987.