It is widely recognised today that the founder of NAFA was Lim Hak Tai, a teacher at the Xiamen Academy of Art and Jimei Teachers Training College before initiating NAFA in Singapore. There is a Portrait of Lim Hak Tai by Xu Beihong painted in 1939 in the Singapore Art Museum collection.

Source: Kwok Kian Chow: Channels and Confluences


Work on the new Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) campus in Bencoolen Street is due to start by the end of the year and NAFA can expect to move in by 2004. NAFA, Singapore's oldest arts school, was set up in 1938 by artist Lim Hak Tai in a bungalow in Geylang. NAFA now has 1,300 full-time students and 170 full-time teaching staff on campuses in Middle road, Short Street and Upper Wilkie Road.

Source: Straits Times


In the early 1930's, a Japanese trained Chinese artist, Mr Huang Suiheng, who was also the founder of the Xiamen Art Academy in the People's Republic of China, stopped by Singapore on his way back from France. During his short stay here, Mr Huang observed that the strategic global position of Singapore together with its tropical influence made it an attractive place to set up an institution for fine arts. On his return to China, Mr Huang then approached Mr Lim Hak Tai, a teacher at the Xiamen Art Academy and persuaded Mr Lim to establish an art school in Singapore.

The local arts scene was very quiet before 1927 with a few isolated art activities. It was not until 1936 when a group of Chinese artists founded the Society of Chinese Artists that the first local arts body was formed.

The out-break of the Sino-Japanese war in 1937 drove Mr Lim Hak Tai and a group of art teachers to Singapore. They then visited Mr Tan See Siang, a local businessman to discuss the idea of establishing a fine art institution here in Singapore. Together with the Singapore Alumni of Jimei High School in Xiamen, Mr Tan invited Mr Lim to stay and establish an art school in Singapore. Mr Lim then agreed and together with a group of arts education enthusiasts, they undertook the responsibility of setting up an arts school in Singapore.

The Society of Chinese Artists actively supported Mr Lim Hak Tai in establishing an art school in Singapore. At its 12th Council Committee meeting held on 22nd December 1937, members of the Society such as Mr Li Kuishi, Yong Mun Sen, Mr Liu Kang, Mr Tchang Ju Chi and Mr Xu Junlian formed a Drafting Committee to assist Mr Lim in his efforts in setting up the fine arts academy.

On 10th February 1938, the Committee placed advertisements in the local Chinese daily newspapers "Xin Zhou Ri Bao" and "Nan Yang Ri Bao" to recruit students in the arts school. The minimum entry qualification was completion of secondary school education. However, those who did not meet the minimum entry qualification will still be considered for admission to the school so long as they have a keen interest in the arts. The registration period for admission took place from 25th February to 7th of March 1938. As the response was not good, the Committee put up another advertisement on 2nd of March in the "Nan Yang Shang Bao", another local Chinese daily newspaper. Following the recruitment drive, only 14 students were admitted to the arts school.

Hence the Nanyang Fine Arts College commenced lessons on 10th March 1938. Mr Lim Hak Tai was assigned to be the Principal by the School Management Committee with Mr Kao Fei Tse, Chang Ming Tse and Qiu Yingkui being assigned as teachers. The School was located at Lorong 167 Geylang, a two storey old bungalow just opposite the then Gay World.

The curriculum was modeled after that of the Xiamen art school. Courses offered were western arts classes, sculpture and applied arts. Students could also choose one of the 2 types of courses offered: 3-year full time courses - with classes from 9.00am to 12pm catering for professional training and afternoon classes from 1.00pm to 4.00pm offering optional courses. The second was a 2-year course on painting for those art enthusiasts who wanted to learn for enrichment.

Being an arts school set up by volunteers, the School relied heavily on the public for its finances. However, the small number of students enrolled in the School did not give the necessary confidence to the public. Without adequate financial support from donors, the School quickly ran into financial difficulties. It could not pay salaries to their teachers and could not offer the best facilities to the students. Fortunately, the School had a team of dedicated teachers who remained teaching at the School and also at other secondary schools to earn their keep. Mr Lim also used his own money to support the expenses of the School.

Source: NAFA


A Brief History of the NAFA Alumni Association

Since its inception in 1938, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts has, through its art educator and pioneer principal Lim Hak Tai and other founding members weathered storms and endured hardships for decades and have groomed numerous talented artists spread out all over Singapore, Malaysia and other regions of South-east Asia. In the 1930s, it was the only fine art school set up in Malaysia.

After a period of closure during the Japanese Occupation years NAFA resumed operations in 1946. The campus was then located at 49, St. Thomas Walk. During the early years NAFA graduates who studied in the 1950s and 1960s had a deep affection for their Alma Mater. They visited the academy frequently to soak in the artistic atmosphere and even felt close to the familiar and warm rambles of Lim Hak Tai, the principal.

For a long time NAFA had to rely entirely on students' fees for survival. For a long time the salaries of the teachers remained meagre, the premises old and equipment outdated. In 1963 after the death of Lim Hak Tai, his son Lim Yew Kuan took over the post of principal and met with difficulty. Student enrolment dropped as a result of the separation of Singapore and Malaya, a new immigration ruling, the institution of the National Service, as well as economic recession. NAFA was in serious financial straits. At the end of 1973, Lim Yew Kuan made an announcement through the press that NAFA faced the crisis of closure due to financial hardship.

Chua Por Teong, then Chairman of NAFA Board of Directors, appealed to NAFA graduates and members of the Board of Directors to render support to rescue the academy. A group of graduates, headed by Song Chew Him, a board member and NAFA graduate, launched a sale of their art works to raise funds for NAFA. They held a large-scale charity art exhibition at the Victoria Memorial Hall on February 8, 1974. Fortunately with the good response from the community, they managed to raise more than S$120,000 with which to tide NAFA over for a while.

In view of the financial crisis, a group of NAFA graduates held several forums to discuss ways of helping the academy to develop, to avoid a recurrence of financial crisis and sustain the life-long devotion of Lim Hak Tai. All those involved felt it was vital to organise these graduates and direct their attention to the future of the academy to sustain its fine artistic tradition and help promote the fine art of our country.

On March 3, 1974, a 15-member team of NAFA graduates headed by Song Chwee Him sat down to hold their meeting, where they discussed the feasibility of forming an alumni association. A panel of 15 committee members was elected to form a working committee for the formation of an alumni association. Members of the working committee were : Song Chwee Him and Seah Kim Joo as chairman and vice-chairman respectively, Lee See Sin and Tan Ping Chiang as secretary (general affairs) and assistant secretary (general affairs), Gog Sin Hooi and Yah Chin Tong as treasurer and assistant treasure, Young Mun Yin and Sim Kok Huoy as Chinese and English secretaries, and committee members comprising Li Peicheng, Wang Yanshun, Khan Siong Ann, Peter Low, Leng Joon Wong, Tan Kian Por, and Lee Hock Moh. They wasted no time in preparing themselves for the launch of the alumni association.

On 18 December 1974, the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts Alumni Association was formally registered with the Registry of Societies. On 14 September 1975 the association held its inaugural meeting at the Singaproe Cricket Club, where a nine-member executive council was set up, consisting of Song Chwee Him, Yah Chin Tong, Gog Sin Hooi, Tan Ping Chiang, Lee See Sin, Leng Joon Wong, Li Fengxi, Low Hai Hong, and Ho Chee Park. Song Chwee Him was unanimously voted president of the association. An inaugural art exhibition was held at the Victoria Memorial Hall from the 20th to the 23rd in association with the launch of the association and laying the foundation for the future development of NAFA Alumni Association.

Source: NAFA Alumni Association