Museum Musings: National Gallery Singapore presents Chua Soo Bin – Truths & Legends
National Gallery Singapore spotlights its photographic collection with the first retrospective of local photographer and Cultural Medallion recipient, Chua Soo Bin, in the exhibition, Chua Soo Bin: Truths & Legends.
Curated by Charmaine Toh from National Gallery, Chua Soo Bin: Truths & Legends features close to 100 photographic works alongside archival materials, the exhibition, which runs from 6th December 2019 to 28th June 2020, will chart Chua’s remarkable decades-long career. It will give prominence to some of these pivotal works in the development of photography in Singapore, a history which is traditionally overlooked, and explore the timelessness and intricacy of his portraiture against the backdrop of a thriving social media photography scene today.
Chua Soo Bin is known for his ability to tell complex stories through his photographs. His portraits are sensitive and nuanced, built on his mastery of the medium and understanding of his subjects. His skill is most clearly seen in his renowned Legends series. These definitive portraits of 14 Chinese ink masters such as Ye Qianyu, Lu Yanshao and Singaporean ink artist, Chen Wen Hsi offer a rare insight into the lives and personalities of these towering figures. This critically acclaimed photographic series also earned Chua the Cultural Medallion in 1989, and highlighted the work of a Singaporean photographer to the rest of the world.
Chua Soo Bin: Truths & Legends comprises three thematic sections. The first and largest part of the exhibition features the Legends photographs. Exhibiting alongside the portraits of the 14 ink masters is a selection of ink paintings by these artists, and notes by renowned Chinese art historian Liu Xilin, who knew these men personally. Collectively, they add a new dimension to the stories revealed in the portraits to enrich the viewing experience.
The second section delves into the candid and informal portraits taken by Chua of modern Chinese ink artist Wu Guanzhong, over two decades. These photographs reveal different aspects of Wu’s life, from his constant sketching to his vivacious personality and love for his family, as well as the rapport between artist and photographer.
The final section examines Chua’s life, from his early years in advertising to the many ways in which he has contributed to the art scene in Singapore. In addition to his earlier pictorial and commercial photographs alongside archival materials, visitors can also view a short 1989 documentary about Chua to trace the development of his art practice and learn more about his artistic process.
Says Dr Eugene Tan, Director of National Gallery Singapore: “Spotlighting the works of Singapore artists and educating the public of their artistic practices continue to be a priority for the Gallery. While photography has traditionally been underresearched in Singapore, it has played a significant role in our art history. The iconic works of Chua Soo Bin are excellent examples of the potential of photography as an art form. It has been exactly three decades since Legends was completed. We hope that this retrospective will raise awareness of Chua’s significant contributions to Singapore’s art scene as a photographer, a gallerist, art dealer and art patron. At the same time, visitors will be inspired to learn more about Singapore’s very own photographers and reflect on the changing role of photography.”
As the first photography exhibition the National Gallery Singapore has curated since it opened, choosing Chua Soo Bin feels rather momentous, and also appropriate. As a legendary local photography whose subjects often include some of Singapore’s greatest artists and figures of the time, each of his photos captures something simple about them, and their stories in a single image, through his lens. As one walks through the exhibition, one feels as if Chua’s own story is slowly unfolding, as we learn how he started his own company using his own photographs as collateral, and the journey he took over time as he developed his craft and career.
During the exhibition, it was also shared that photography goes far beyond simply finding a subject, bringing them into the studio and getting them to pose. For Chua, this process also involved a deep intimacy with his subjects, as he took the time to get to know each person for who they were, what they stood for, and the story that they wanted to be told through his photographs, something not many portrait photographers take the time to do today. Through the exhibition, Chua Soo Bin showed how much perseverance he had to succeed, his love for the craft, and his undying attitude to express himself through photography, one that coming to Truths & Legends will hopefully, similarly impart to its visitors.
Chua Soo Bin: Truths & Legends runs from 6th December 2019 to 28th June 2020 at the National Gallery Singapore. Tickets and more information available here