Sensibility In Art: Southeast Asia and the local paradigm
What are the elements in a painting that create the magical connection between the artwork and the viewer?
Dr. Bridget Tracy Tan, curator of the Sensibility in Art exhibition and 2016 UOB Painting of the Year judge, explains.
Sensibility in art relates to emotions and feelings. It also relates to how we perceive meaning from looking at an artwork.
There are two basic ways to appreciate an artwork, the formal and the contextual. The formal refers to our visual understanding of what is graphic and visual: such as line, colour and shape. Broadly, the contextual means using other information at hand such as the story behind the work, anecdotes of the artist’s life or the time in which the artwork was made, to add to our appreciation of the art object. As viewers, we take time to look at an object, observe its visual qualities and we make meaning from a combination of information and our own observations.
Animals’ Kingdom by Andrea Yap En Rui
In Southeast Asia, we can also associate sensibility to the spiritual (something we cannot see, only feel). The spiritual (not necessarily religious) is prominent in the arts and culture of Southeast Asia. For example, the broad definition of ‘semangat’ in Malay means ‘keep spirit’ or ‘spirit’. From this we understand that souls and spirits inhabit animate and inanimate objects, and contribute to or participate in, the general forces of nature and of life itself.
Kampong Lane by Lim Cheng Hoe
The notion of sensibility therefore posits that we find meaning and feeling in both formal and contextual terms of art-making and art objects. More importantly, sensibility in relation to the Southeast Asian concept of ‘semangat’ is closely aligned to that of reciprocity. As viewers of an art object, it matters as much, what information resides in the object as what we, as living beings, bring to it.
The 15 paintings by Singapore artists in this exhibition are drawn from the UOB Art Collection that comprises more than 2,300 artworks. They include significant works by Singapore’s early masters such as Mr Cheong Soo Pieng and Mr Anthony Poon, and by winners of the UOB Painting of the Year competition.
About the curator
Dr. Bridget Tracy Tan is Director for the Institute of Southeast Asian Arts and Art Galleries at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. In March 2005, her book “Style & Imagination: Art in the Nanyang Academy” featuring highlights of the academy’s collection and its regional significance was published. To date, she has written books and essays on the work of Cultural Medallion artists, such as Chua Ek Kay, Lim Tze Peng, Ang Ah Tee, Chng Seok Tin, Han Sai Por, Thomas Yeo, Ng Eng Teng and Yip Cheong Fun as well as pioneer and master artist, Cheong SooPieng. In 2011, Select Books published the debut ‘Women Artists in Singapore’ book that she wrote, ascommissioned by the National Heritage Board.
From 1996 to January 2004, Dr. Tan was a curator at the Singapore Art Museum. While at the museum she specialized in acquisitions and researching Second Generation Singapore artists, the art of Vietnam, Malaysia and India. Today, she continues her work with Southeast Asian art and artists, through workshops, research, publications and exhibitions.
Dr. Tan graduated with a Master of Arts, obtaining First Class Honours in Art History from the University of Glasgow in Scotland. She holds a Doctor of Philosophy from Chelsea College of Art, London, focusing on practice-led research as a curator and critical art historian in Southeast Asia.