13/16 Musings about Negaraku @ NAG

The National Gallery Singapore, is where I last saw Cheong Soo Pieng’s ‘Tropical Life’. The rather-simply-executed picture – oft-quoted in writings about Malaysian art history, and referenced in Ho Tzu Nyen’s 2005 television series “Episodes of Singaporean Art” – recalls Paul Gauguin at first glance, and looks like a preparatory drawing for a batik painting. The idyllic scene is complemented by a turquoise sea in its background, although I wonder what the lady at the centre is doing, and whether the person carrying something on her head is a servant, or depicted as dark-skinned because she was standing in the shade. The illustration of an extended Malay family is likely imagined, yet possible to envisage as being based in either Malaya or Singapore. There is no way I can look at this painting, without thinking about the art and national histories of both places.

Cheong Soo Pieng – Tropical Life (1959)