Chua Mia Tee
Chua Mia Tee (b. 25 November 1931, Shantou, Guangdong, China) is one of Singapore’s foremost realist painters. Born in Shantou, Guangdong province, China, in 1931, Chua was six years old when he came to Singapore in 1937. He was a student at Shuqun School and then Tuan Mong School. In 1947, he enrolled in Chung Cheng High School but left school midway to pursue a formal arts education at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA).
At NAFA, he received training in drawing, sketching with watercolour and painting, both with oils on canvas and with Chinese ink and colours on paper. He was taught by the academy’s director Lim Hak Tai as well as artists Cheong Soo Pieng, Koh Tong Leong, and See Hiang To. He graduated from NAFA in 1952.
While studying in NAFA, Chua was asked to teach part-time at the school, and he continued to teach as a fulltime staff after graduation. In 1954, Chua went back to Chung Cheng High School to complete his secondary education. Thereafter, he returned to NAFA to teach from 1956 to 1957.
Between 1957 and 1974, Chua used his skills in the field of commercial art. The year 1974 was a watershed period for Chua. At the age of 43, he staged his maiden exhibition at the Rising Gallery on Telok Ayer Street. The exhibition was a success and this gave him the confidence to become a full-time artist.
Chua draws his inspiration and subjects from the world around him. Having spent his boyhood in Chinatown and along the Singapore River, many of Chua’s early works depict the traditional landscapes and life in Singapore that were disappearing as a result of urban redevelopment. Several of Chua’s paintings like “Epic Poem of Malaya” (1955) and “National Language Class” (1959) also convey the heightened sense of political and social awareness prevalent in the 1950s and 1960s.
Chua has also been called upon to paint illustrious personalities such as former Chief Justice Wee Chong Jin, Lim Chin Beng, and Wee Cho Yaw. His portrait of the late former President Yusof bin Ishak appears on Singapore portrait-series currency notes.
Besides oil, Chua also uses other mediums such as acrylic, mixed media, watercolour, bronze and relief.
In 2015, Chua was conferred the Cultural Medallion, a national honour that recognises his artistic contributions to Singapore. The National Gallery of Singapore’s inaugural exhibition, Siapa Nama Kamu?, takes its name from Chua Mia Tee’s iconic painting, “National Language Class”.
Chua’s latest exhibition, titled Chua Mia Tee: Directing the Real, opens at the National Gallery of Singapore in November 2021, and focuses on his early practice from the 1950s to 1980s.
Ho, O. (2018, June 23). Key collection of Chua Mia Tee’s works. The Straits Times. Accessible via Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.
Huang, L.J. (2012, June 25). Painter of presidents and koi. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Sabapathy, K. (1985, September 13). The painted world according to Chua. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Sabapathy, T.K. (1988, March 9). Artist Chua digs deep into reality with oils. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Ngui, C. (1982, September 16). Chua’s cinematic art. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Jacobi, S. (1988, March 20). Artist who makes head lines. The Straits Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
Yap, F. (2000, September 2). A definitive S’pore artist. Business Times. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
叶伟征. (Interviewer). (1997). Oral history interview with Chua Mia Tee. 4 reels, in Chinese (Accession no. 001901). Singapore: National Archives of Singapore.
Ministry of National Development and National Museum of Singapore. (1988). Artist: Chua Mia Tee. 1 videocassette (VHS, PAL).
Tong, K. (2020). A Frame in Time - S1E2: National Language Class. CNA.
Omar, M. (2016). Chua Mia Tee. Infopedia. Retrieved 2021, November 3.
Chua Mia Tee. (2016, October 12). Esplanade Offstage. Retrieved 2021, November 11.
National Arts Council. (2015). Cultural Medallion 2015: Chua Mia Tee. Retrieved 2021, November 11.
Ting, K. (2019). National Language Class, Chua Mia Tee, Singapore, 1959, oil on canvas. Roots.gov.sg. Retrieved 2021, November 11.
The introduction is adapted from the Infopedia entry on Chua Mia Tee authored by Marsita Omar, available in full here. This guide provides a selection of resources on the artist and is not meant to be exhaustive. You can also visit catalogue.nlb.gov.sg to search for more materials. This resource guide was prepared in November 2021 by Luke Chua, Senior Librarian at the National Library. The information in this resource guide is valid as at November 2021 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources.
All Rights Reserved. National Library Board Singapore 2021.