Low Sze Wee

Low Sze Wee

Chief Executive Officer, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre

Low Sze Wee is Chief Executive Officer of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre. With a background in law, he later completed postgraduate studies in History of Art from the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London in 1999, and Southeast Asian Studies from the National University of Singapore in 2010. Sze Wee has curated many local and international exhibitions, including important retrospectives on Singaporean artists and the Singapore pavilion at the 50th Venice Biennale in 2003. Three of his exhibitions garnered the National Heritage Board (NHB) Exhibition Award in 2007, 2008 and 2009. He was also awarded the NHB Research Award in 2007 for his contributions to scholarship on Singapore and Southeast Asian art history. In 2013, Sze Wee was the first Singaporean to be named a fellow of the prestigious Clore Leadership Programme. Formerly heading the curatorial departments at the Singapore Art Museum and then National Gallery Singapore, he was a key member of the inaugural team that oversaw the National Gallery’s opening in 2015. Sze Wee has also been involved in strategic arts planning and policy in Singapore’s Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.

Singapore artist Tang Da Wu’s Chinese ink paintings on display as part of the Singapore Art Week 2019. (SPH Media)

Tropical pursuits: Collecting ink paintings in Singapore

CEO of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre Low Sze Wee traces the history of Singapore’s ink art collecting trends, and the bonds of friendship forged between Chinese and Singaporean artists.
Nanyang artist Sun Yee. (Dynasties Antique & Art Gallery)

Who are the Nanyang women artists?

Even those familiar with Nanyang artists may be hard-pressed to name other women artists aside from Georgette Chen. Actually, Sun Yee was a renowned artist in her own right, and in Singapore where she eventually settled down, she spent close to three decades heading an art academy. Low Sze Wee, CEO of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, tells us more.
Visitors at the National Gallery of Singapore, 2015. (SPH Media)

This is what Nanyang art looks like

Following up on his article tracing the origins of Nanyang art and its influence in Southeast Asia, Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre CEO Low Sze Wee explains the characteristics of Nanyang art, highlighting the unique integration of Chinese and Western art in their compositions.
A student of the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA), 1998. (SPH Media)

What is Nanyang art?

Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre CEO Low Sze Wee traces the origins of Nanyang art, the shaping of the identity of the “Nanyang artists” through the years, and the relevance of this movement to Singapore’s art history.
A digital recreation of the painting Along the River During the Qingming Festival (清明上河图, Qingming Shanghe Tu) is seen on display at the exhibition, A Moving Masterpiece: The Song Dynasty As Living Art, at the Singapore Expo Convention and Exhibition Centre, Singapore. (SPH)

Copying is a virtue in Chinese ink painting

Temporary orders to halt the KAWS public art installation exhibition led Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre CEO Low Sze Wee to ponder the copyright issues of Chinese ink paintings. He notes that many of Singapore’s first-generation artists like Chen Wen Hsi and Fan Chang Tien were educated in Shanghai in the 1920s and were deeply influenced by the Shanghai School. Copying was a common mode of learning, and students like Henri Chen Kezhan and Chua Ek Kay did their best to copy the works of their teachers. While they eventually developed their own styles over time, Low says it could be argued that their achievements were made possible by their formative years spent on copying.
The Chinese community in Singapore has developed in a way that is unique to its time and place. (SPH)

Trees in a forest: Becoming Chinese Singaporean in multicultural Singapore

A metaphor used by playwright Kuo Pao Kun and recently mentioned by Finance Minister Lawrence Wong says that different cultural communities are trees in the forest, each separated at the trunk, but nourished by the same soil and cross-pollinating high in the sky at the leaves and branches. Low Sze Wee, CEO of the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, extends the metaphor, noting that Chinese Singaporeans have developed distinct cultural identities from Chinese elsewhere. Their way of life is a combination of what they brought with them, their interactions with others, and the policies they live under with their fellow citizens.