Equator Art Society



The Equator Art Society was created in 1956 as an artists’ group that promoted the social realist art style in Singapore.1 It was also a nationalist and anti-colonialist society that was most active during the 1960s, when the country was going through several political changes. Artists in the group were primarily concerned with depicting the masses, especially the poorer classes, besides promoting nation building.2

Membership and Activities
Founded by artist Lim Yew Kuan, past society members and leaders also included other artists Lai Kui Fang, Chua Mia Tee, Ong Kim Seng and Koeh Sia Yong. The group, made up of mostly young artists and students, held regular painting classes on Saturdays at their headquarters at No. 56 Lorong 32 in Geylang. They would organise exhibitions of their social realist works – which were in different mediums such as woodcut prints, sculpture, drawings and oil painting. The society also co-organised Singapore’s first National Day local art exhibition in 1960, sponsored by the Ministry of Culture, and in support of then-leading leftist party, the People’s Action Party (PAP).3

However, the society came under fire in 1964 over its leftist leanings. Artist Ho Ho Ying, one-time president of the Modern Art Society, another local art group, criticised the Equator Art Society members’ art works as lacking in creativity and art direction, and being more preoccupied with making social-political statements. The society responded by stating in its 1965 exhibition catalogue: “Unfortunately, there are artists who are only trying to copy Western art which has not the least of our local flavour".4

Even more changes were in store for the group when Singapore became an independent nation in 1965. The new PAP-led government was now on a quest for stability and its focus was on harmonious nation-building. Hence, social realist art with its radical nature lost its favour.5

In its 1966 exhibition catalogue, the society stated that “The value of the genuine school of art lies in the fact that it does not lose its integrity amidst the ugly commercial dealings belonging to the decadent bourgeois. Instead, it always works to faithfully reflect or expose the very root of the reality of life, to spread the Truth, the Virtue, and the Beauty of this world".6

The Equator Art Society eventually disbanded in 1972. The actual facts surrounding its demise have not been published, although the society was alleged to have grown into a front for communist activities. In general, the social realist art style in Singapore declined from the 1970s onward.7



Author

Alicia Yeo Kay Ling



References
1. Kwok, K. C. (1996). Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, p. 71. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 KWO)
2. Lim, C. T. (2005). “Fragments of the past: Political prints of post-war Singapore.” The Heritage Journal, 2(1), 22–47. Retrieved on 2016, July 28 from The Singapore e-Press website: http://www.epress.nus.edu.sg/nhb/include/getdoc.php?id=64&article=14&mode=pdf
3. Lim, R. (2003, June 29). Art saved him from politics. The Straits Times, p. 4. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lim, C. T. (2005). “Fragments of the past: Political prints of post-war Singapore.” The Heritage Journal, 2(1), 22–47. Retrieved on 2016, July 28 from The Singapore e-Press website: http://www.epress.nus.edu.sg/nhb/include/getdoc.php?id=64&article=14&mode=pdf
4. Kwok, K. C. (1996). Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art. Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, pp. 72, 79. (Call no.: RSING 709.5957 KWO)
5. Lim, C. T. (2005). “Fragments of the past: Political prints of post-war Singapore.” The Heritage Journal, 2(1), 22–47. Retrieved on 2016, July 28 from The Singapore e-Press website: http://www.epress.nus.edu.sg/nhb/include/getdoc.php?id=64&article=14&mode=pdf
6. Lim, C. T. (2005). “Fragments of the past: Political prints of post-war Singapore.” The Heritage Journal, 2(1), 22–47. Retrieved on 2016, July 28 from The Singapore e-Press website: http://www.epress.nus.edu.sg/nhb/include/getdoc.php?id=64&article=14&mode=pdf
7. Lim, C. T. (2005). “Fragments of the past: Political prints of post-war Singapore.” The Heritage Journal, 2(1), 22–47. Retrieved on 2016, July 28 from The Singapore e-Press website: http://www.epress.nus.edu.sg/nhb/include/getdoc.php?id=64&article=14&mode=pdf



Further resource
Ho, H. Y. (n.d.). Oral history interview (Special projects: Visual arts: Ho Ho Ying). National Archives of Singapore. Retrieved November 30, 2006, from http://www.nas.gov.sg/archivesonline/




The information in this article is valid as at 2016 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.  It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject.  Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

 

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Associations, institutions, etc.--Singapore
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Arts