SONG CHWEE HIM
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 For a long time the salaries of the teachers remained meagre, the premises old and equipment outdated.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