Society of Chinese Artists
The Society of Chinese Artists (SOCA) was established in 1935. It is one of the earliest art associations in Singapore, alongside the Singapore Art Club (新加坡美术俱乐部, established in around 1882) and Commercial Art Institute (新加坡美术广告研究会, established in 1937).1 SOCA’s main objectives are to promote and cultivate art, and to nurture young artists. It holds art exhibitions by both local and overseas artists regularly.2 Among its members were notable pioneer artists such as Chen Chong Swee, Chen Wen Hsi, Cheong Soo Pieng, Liu Kang, as well as Cultural Medallion recipients including Wee Beng Chong, Ong Kim Seng, Tan Kian Por and Lim Tze Peng.3
Establishment and early years
On 15 April 1935, graduates from three art schools in China, namely Shanghai Fine Arts College, Sin Wah Fine Arts Academy and Shanghai University of Fine Arts, who were living in Singapore had a meeting to discuss the setting up of an art society, named “Salon Art Society”.4 The first attempt failed as just over 10 people signed up as members since membership was only open to the graduates of the three art schools. To expand the reach of the proposed society, membership was opened up to other artists and a second meeting was held on 17 November 1935. The society, renamed “Society of Chinese Artists”, attracted more than 40 members from Malaya, Indonesia and Hong Kong.5
On 20 January 1936, the Society of Chinese Artists (SOCA) was formally registered with the government and joined the exhibition organised by Ying Ying Art Society in Penang on 1 June 1936. It also organised its first art exhibition that opened on 25 June 1936 at the Young Women’s Christian Association. The well-received exhibition prompted SOCA to hold annual art exhibitions. However, the onset of World War II disrupted the sixth annual art exhibition in 1941. During the Japanese Occupation of Singapore, the Society’s chairman Tchang Ju Chi, vice-chairman Ho Kwang Yew, and several other members lost their lives in Operation Sook Ching, while the other members of SOCA were dispersed to different areas.6 This caused SOCA to cease all functions abruptly.7
After the war ended in 1945, the surviving members in Singapore started preparations to resume the Society’s activities. On 29 September 1946, SOCA held a general meeting and Liu Kang was elected its first post-war president. SOCA also rewrote its charter to adapt to new circumstances in the post-war era. On 20 December 1946, SOCA held its sixth annual art exhibition. There were two special sections in this art exhibition: one displayed the artworks of members who had lost their lives during the war, while the other presented famous artworks in history and in modern times.8
Exhibitions and other activities
As part of their efforts to promote and cultivate art, SOCA has been organising or co-organising annual art exhibitions and exhibitions of works by local and overseas artists.9 Since the setting up of the Society, exhibitions that featured the works of established artists such as Xu Beihong, Huang Binhong, Zhang Daqian, Liu Kang, Cheong Soo Pieng, Sun Yee, Lee Man Fong and others have been organised.10 Visits were also organised to view the collections of local art collectors Wong Man See, Tan Tsze Chor and Yeo Khee Lim.11 SOCA also organised overseas trips for its members, such as sketching trips to northern parts of the Malay Peninsula.12
In recent years, SOCA continues to organise overseas sketching trips and art exhibitions featuring local and overseas artists. For example, in 2011, 24 members joined a sketching trip to Bali arranged by SOCA. In 2014, SOCA co-organised an exhibition of works by Taiwanese artist, Calvin Teng, with The Black Earth Art Gallery. SOCA also held an exhibition of the members’ works in Zhongshan city, Guangzhou, China, under the invitation of the Bureau of Culture, Radio, Television, Press and Publication in Zhongshan city. In conjunction with the 80th anniversary of the society, an art catalogue was published, and an art exhibition showcasing the members’ works was held from 5 to 9 December 2015.13
SOCA had also periodically expressed its opinions on various aspects of the development of arts and arts education in Singapore. In January 1957, it published an open letter to urge the government to put more emphasis on arts education in Singapore, to educate future artists and art teachers, and to set up art museums and art schools.14 In 1958, SOCA provided the Art and Cultural Advisory Committee (文化艺术咨询委员会) with suggestions on how local arts standards could be improved. These included hosting international arts exhibitions locally, holding art exhibitions by local artists overseas, allocating funds to support work by local artists and organising overseas learning trips.15
SOCA has contributed greatly to the establishment of federations which promote art and culture in Singapore. It was one of the founding members of the Singapore Arts Council, a federation which was established in 1955 and which comprises arts societies that focus on various art forms.16 SOCA was also one of the four arts societies which initiated the establishment of the Federation of Arts Societies in the early 1990s, so as to pull different arts societies in Singapore together to promote art and culture.17
1935: The Society of Chinese Artists (SOCA) is established.
1936: SOCA is formally registered and holds its first annual art exhibition.18
1942–1945: SOCA ceases its activities due to World War II.19
1946: SOCA resumes its activities and holds its first general meeting and annual art exhibition after the war.20
1970: The government offers to lease the fourth level of a block of public flats in Outram Park to SOCA. SOCA takes up the offer the following year and starts preparations to move into the unit.21
1986: Due to the increasing rent, SOCA moves out of its premises in Outram Park. It later moves into the San San Campus of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts at 107A Sophia Road.22
1990: SOCA initiates the establishment of the Federation of Arts Societies with three other local art societies.23 The Federation is registered on 24 January 1992.24 SOCA shifts again from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts at 107A Sophia Road to the Federation of Art Societies at Church Street.25
Goh Yu Mei
1. Kwok Kian Chow, Channels & Confluences: A History of Singapore Art (Singapore: Singapore Art Museum, 1996), 16. (Call no. RSING 709.5957 KWO); Yao Mengtong 姚梦桐, Liu dong qian yi zai di jing li: Xinjiapo shi jue yi shu xian xiang (1886-1945) 流动迁移·在地经历:新加坡视觉艺术现象(1886-1945) [ Migration and local experience: Singapore's visual art phenomenon (1886-1945)] (Singapore 新加坡: Nanyang li gong da xue Kongzi xue yuan 南洋理工大学孔子学院, 2017), 106–107. (Call no. Chinese RSING 709.5957 YMT)
2. Chinese Fine Arts Research Association 中华美术研究会 (Singapore), Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui si shi zhou nian ji nian kan中华美术研究会四十周年纪念刊 [Society of Chinese Artists fortieth anniversary, 1975] (Singapore 新加坡: Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui 中华美术研究会 , 1975), 6. (Call no. Chinese RSING 759.95957 SOC)
3. Z Honghua Art Research Association 中华美树眼九会 , Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì sānshí zhōunián jìniàn tèkān 中华美术研究会三十周年纪念特刊 [Special Issue for the 30th Anniversary of the Chinese Art Research Association] (Xinjiapo 新加坡: Chinese Fine Arts Research Association 中华美术研究会), 87–88. (Call no. Chinese RCLOS 759.95957 SOC); Goh Beng Choo 吴明珠 and Shi Hui Chen 石辉, Miǎnhuái, zhānwàng: Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì 80 zhōunián huàjí缅怀, 瞻望 : 中华美术研究会80周年画集 [Remembering and Looking Forward: The 80th Anniversary Collection of Chinese Art Research Association], trans. Goh Beng Choo (Xinjiapo 新加坡: Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui中华美术研究会, 2015), 157, 275, 315,331.(Call no. Chinese RSING 759.95957 REM)
4. Goh and Shi, Miǎnhuái, zhānwàng, 16.
5. Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui 中华美树眼九会, Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì sānshí zhōunián jìniàn tèkān中华美术研究会三十周年纪念特刊 [The Society of Chinese Artists 30th anniversary souvenir magazine 1965] (Xinjiapo 新加坡: n. p. 出版社缺, 1965). (Call no. Chinese RCLOS 759.95957 SOC-[LK])
6. Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì, 2.
7. Marco Cheng Foo Hsu, A Brief History of Malayan Art, trans. Lai Chee Kian (Singapore: Millennium Books, 1999), 113. (Call no. YRSING 709.595 HSU)
8. Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì, 2.
9. Chinese Fine Arts Research Association, Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, 4–6;
徐悲鸿遗作六十二幅在维多利亚纪念堂展览 [62 artworks by the late artists Xu Beihong exhibited at Victoria Memorial Hall], Nanyang Siang Pau南洋商报, 20 February 1954, 6; 陈长豪、刘培和、王金成联合画展 [Joint exhibition of Chan Chang How, Low Puay Hua and Ong Kim Seng], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商报, 25 June 1975, 15; 青年画家梁其栋潘再雄下月八日联合举行画展 [Youth artists Leo Hee Tong and Hua Chai Yong will be holding a joint exhibition on the eighth of next month], Nanyang Siang Pau南洋商报, 14 March 1971, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
10. Goh and Shi, Miǎnhuái, zhānwàng, 17–32.
11. Chinese Fine Arts Research Association, Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, 6.
12. 中华美术研究会订年底 举行今年度画展 [The Society of Chinese Artists will be holding their annual art exhibition at the end of the year], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商报, 13 October 1962, 16. (From NewspaperSG)
13. Goh and Shi, Miǎnhuái, zhānwàng, 17–32.
14. 中华美术研究会 箴政府重视艺术教育 [The Society of Chinese Artists urges the government to value art education], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商报, 13 January 1957, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
15. Chinese Fine Arts Research Association, Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, 4.
16. “Variety Concert by Art Society,” Straits Times, 5 July 1965, 4; 艺术理事会 首届职员选出 [First executive committee of the Singapore Arts Council elected], Nanyang Siang Pau 南洋商报, 22 July 1955, 6. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Visual Arts Group – Federation of Art Societies Singapore,” Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts at NAFA, last accessed 27 September 2018.
18. Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì, 2.
19. Hsu, Brief History of Malayan Art, 113.
20. Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, Zhōnghuá měishù yánjiū huì, 2.
21. Chinese Fine Arts Research Association, Zhonghua mei shu yan jiu hui, 5.
22. Yao Tian You 姚天佑, ed., Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu hui shu hua ji qing zhu cheng li50zhou nian ji nian中华美术研究会书画集庆祝成立50周年纪念 [Art 90 in Commemoration of the 55th anniversary the society of Chinese artists] (Xinjiapo 新加坡: Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu hu 中华美术研究会, 1990), 14. (Call no. Chinese RSING 759.95957 ART); “Our History,” Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, last accessed 27 September 2018.
23. Yao, Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu hui shu, 14.
24. Tanoto Foundation Centre for Southeast Asian Arts at NAFA, “Visual Arts Group.”
25. Fu Mei Shan 符玫珊, Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu hui liu shi zhou nian shu hua ji 中华美术研究会六十周年书画集 [Art 60: in commemoration of the 60th anniversary the Society of Chinese Artists] ([Xin jia po] [新加坡]: Zhong hua mei shu yan jiu hui 中华美术研究会, 1995), 19. (Call no. Chinese RSING 7592.95957 ART); 美术总会筹委会星期日举行联欢 [The organising committee of Federation of Art Societies will be hosting a gathering on Sunday], Lianhe Wanbao 联合晚报, 12 February 1991, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
Lee Chor Lin, “The Prewar and Postwar Art Scene in Singapore: Modernist Artists and Art Spaces,” in Chapters on Asia: Selected Papers from the Lee Kong Chian Research Fellowship (2020) (Singapore: National Library Board, 2021).
The information in this article is valid as at 1 October 2018 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.