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Her Power · Malaysia | Continuation of the New Nanyang Style

HER POWER Global Female Contemporary Art Online Exhibition 2021  


Curated by
(Click to see their preface and forword)

2021 · HER POWER

The prologue of the "Life.Blossom” Exhibition - "Her Power" Online Exhibition, was jointly initiated by HK Art of Nature International Female Art Research Society, Art Life Foundation, and female artists and art institutions.


The first stage will bring the recommendations from our academic consultants, invited curators and  International Women Artists Federation as pilot. Up to now, we have received works from around 120 artists from more than 30 regions (including oil paintings, ink paintings, installations, sculptures, photography, digital images, etc.).


The call for works is still open to public. The online exhibition will also be published by region, theme, category, subject, or material.


The content of the online exhibition will be presented on Art of Nature’s official website and the platform of "Her Art", Facebook,  and overseas online platforms.


Art of Nature Intrenational Female Art Online Exhibition

 Orgainisors :

HK Art of Nature International Female Art Research Society, Art Life Foundation


Travel to Nanyang" is a legend in the history of human immigration ·

Hence Nanyang Art was formed · Women in Nanyang School:

Women extend the art of Nanyang art with their own unique artistic language  ·

1950s and 1960s: Chang Li Ying, Georgette

Chen (1906-1993), Pioneer woman artist of the Nanyang Style-Art ·

1960s and 1970s: Lai Foong Moi (1931-1995),

Malaysia's first Nanyang Art woman artist to study in Paris · 

1980s and 1990s: Dr. Yuen Chee Ling (1950-2015),

Pioneer in the Rise of "Nanyang Women's Art" in Malaysia ·

 General conclusion: unique style of Nanyang Art painting

Yoon Sook Fong



Before starting to write this article, I sought the advice of  Dr. Cheah Thien Soong, a senior famous Malaysian artist and calligrapher, about the meaning of "Nanyang Art". 


Dr. Cheah Thien Soong is a famous artist of the second generation of Nanyang style artists. He is well known for promoting the unique "Nanyang Style" art of Singapore and Malaysia throughout his life. Over the years, he has strived for excellence in artistic attainments, successfully surpassing tradition. He has created a new local modern brand of “New Malaysian Nanyang Ink Painting". The style and new vision have made great contributions to the development of ink painting. He has cultivated and nourished a number of outstanding calligraphers and artists. His endeavours has undoubtedly contributed to the inspiration and inheritance of the "New Nanyang Style", thus promoting the "New Nanyang Style" to an international level of development.


I am grateful to Dr. Cheah Thien Soong for selflessly sharing his opinions with me and providing suitable reference materials, which indeed is of great help to me in writing this article.

Author:Yoon Sook Fong, Chairperson (Malaysia Women Artists Association)

Translator: Jene Yuen

Dr. Cheah Thien Soong and I

Dr. Cheah Thien Soong <Modern Calligraphy (Oracle Bone Inscriptions)>

 68 x 140 cm, 2020

What is the meaning of the “Nanyang Style” in Art? This question has puzzled many artists, critics, and even art historians. 


I tried to find materials and documents on how the first generation of calligraphers and artists interpret the "Nanyang style" in order to figure out and explore the origin and meaning of the "Nanyang Style ". How did female painters interpret the "Nanyang Style ".

Four pioneers from the 1950s to 2000


Travel to "Nanyang" is a legend in the history of human immigration

"Nanyang" generally refers to the ocean and regions to the south of China. From 1927 to 1948, a large number of Chinese intellectuals, artists and writers travelled to Nanyang, landing in Singapore and Malaya, Singapore and Malaysia thus became the focus point of Southeast Asian Chinese.


It was during this period that the concept of Singapore and Malaysia as "Nanyang" emerged. "Travel to Nanyang" is a legend in the history of human immigration. "Nanyang" not only represents a tropical exotic, advanced and fashionable cultured lifestyle, it also represents a kind of capitalist prosperity. 


In the 19th and early 20th centuries, both Singapore and Malaysia belonged to the British Straits Settlements and were directly under British rule. The people of these two places had been through similar life experiences, wherefore, the customs, lifestyle, art and culture of the people of these two countries became roughly the same and had much in common.

The East India Company in Penang at the junction of Downing Street & Beach Street. The British East India Company was established in 1600. 

Image from the Chinese in Penang, a Pictorial History.

During the one hundred and more decades of British rule, the Chinese and Indian communities in Singapore and Malaysia had greatly developed along with the increase in population. At this historical period, not only was Malaya then constituted of the three major races, but, due to the extensive cultural importation, the foundation of the transformation of various cultural exchanges was also laid. After World War II, the colonial rulers gave considerable encouragement in the Arts, which interestingly, resulted in the various interwoven artistic styles before independence and autonomy.


Hence Nanyang Art was formed

Under the colonial rule, in the 18th century, the pioneers of Malayan art mainly lived in the ports of the Straits Settlements, namely: Penang Island in the north and Singapore Island in the south. 


Their paintings appealed to European colonists, tourists and Chinese merchants who came to do businesses. 


According to some records, during their stay, the British and other European tourists commissioned painters (including Chinese and Malays) from the Straits Settlements to create paintings of local life, flowers, animals etc. for personal collection. According to historical records, among these commissioners, the Malayan East India Company staff numbered the most.

Durian from the William Farquhar Collection of Natural History Drawings. Courtesy of the National Museum of Singapore, National Heritage Board.

Dumbarton Folio featuring mangosteens, there are unopened flower buds, flowers in full bloom, juvenile fruits as well as fully ripe ones, all on the same branch. The other three types of fruit are the ivory yellow rambutan, jambu air and buah melaka. 

Image reproduced from Album of Chinese Watercolours of Asian Fruits, Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

In addition, the British even introduced the painting techniques of the Pre-Raphaelite painters' Central Constantine, Turner and also realist landscape paintings to the Malayan artists. This art trend continued until the 19th century. Meanwhile, in the West during this period, Fine Arts especially in Europe, French impressionism, post-impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Fauvism and Constructivism had all had their impact on the art of the entire Nanyang region. 


With the impact of Western artistic influence on the Eastern spirit, new elements were continuously injected, thereby enabling the culture of all parties to obtain new development and evolve, hence Nanyang Art was formed. 

Chinese artist, c. 1800An artist painting a landscape for the Western market.

Anonymous (Chinese artist),An Early View of Penang from roadstead c. 1800, 10.8 x 14.5 cm, Oil on brass.

(Courtesy by Mr. Martyn Gregory)

Nanyang painting is based on the two major art foundations of the East and the West. A new culture and art with Nanyang style was produced by the collision of styles. It absorbed the nutrients of both Chinese and Western art, merging, interacting and recreating. By and by, Singapore and Malaysia became the birthplace of "Nanyang Style-Art ".


When talking about Nanyang Art, we have to talk about the "Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts" in Singapore. It was founded in 1938 by Chinese artists Lim Hak Tai (1893-1963), Yong Mun Sen (1896-1962) and others. 

Opening of Nanyang Academy of Fine Art at 93 Serangoon Road. 1938

Lin Hak Tai advocated the new art concept of "Nanyang Style". He strongly emphasized that "art is derived from society and therefore must reflect society." This also prompted many Singaporean artists to actively participate in social activities through art in the second half of the 20th century. 


The "Nanyang style" mentioned by Lim Hak Tai is not the "Nanyang Paradise style" that exudes of the very exotic Chinese painting tradition in the past, but embodies the artist’s creative concept of Southeast Asian customs, cultures and traditions, reflected through the art form. This kind of art, with the influence  of  the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, eventually  formed the "Nanyang Style". Nanyang Style-Art had since dominated the Singapore and Southeast Asian art circle and its development throughout the second half of the 20th century.

Yong Mun Sen, father of Malaysian Painting

Lim Hak Tai, father of Nanyang Art


Women in Nanyang School: Women extend the art of Nanyang art with their own unique artistic language

At the same time, Universal education for all, regardless of gender, had opened up opportunities for women to improve themselves through education. At the same time, Western "feminism" had a great influenced on Fine Arts, including women artists in Singapore and Malaysia. With the improvement of the status of women.


Feminism is Western women's ideology towards striving for freedom and equality. The feminist artists in this land are full of passion and possess the wisdom to rewrite the history of art. They use their unique artistic language to expand the boundaries of art and change people's inherent views on the patriarchal world. Feminism has created the possibility for women to actively participate in artistic activities. Many outstanding women artists have thus evolved in Singapore and Malaysia. Women artists have also contributed greatly to national art education.


This article is about four most representative contemporary "Nanyang Style-Art" Chinese women artists as the object of discussion-recording their respective artistic lives, painting characteristics, and artistic uniqueness.

  • 1950s and 1960s: Chang Li Ying, Georgette Chen (1906-1993), Pioneer woman artist of the Nanyang Style-Art


  • 1960s and 1970s: Lai Foong Moi (1931-1995), Malaysia's first Nanyang Style-Art  , notable woman artist who studied in Paris


  • 1980s and 1990s: Dr. Yuen Chee Ling (1950-2015) , Pioneer in the Rise of "Nanyang Women's Art" in Malaysia


  • 90s and 2000s: Sylvia Lee Goh (1940-2021), Malaysia’s Nanyang Peranakan pioneer woman artist 


1950s and 1960s: Chang Li Ying, Georgette Chen (1906-1993), Pioneer woman artist of the Nanyang Style-Art

Chang Li Ying, more commonly known as Georgette Chen was born in 1906, in Zhejiang, China, Chen studied at art academies in Paris and New York. She was a first-generation Singaporean painter and one of the pioneers of the Nanyang Fine Arts. In 1930, 24-year-old Chen married 55-year-old former Foreign Minister of Wuhan National Government, Eugene Chen Youren, in Paris. In 1954, Chen settled in Singapore and taught at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts.

Chang Li Ying, Georgette Chen (1906-1993)

<Georgette Chen, Self-Portrait>

22.5 x 17.5 cm

 Oil on canvas


Collection of National Gallery Singapore

To date, the Singapore Art Museum had collected 147 of her paintings. Chen used Oil painting as her main creative medium. Some art critics consider her technique to be French-style while others view it as Chinese-style. 

<Malay Wedding>

65 x 81 cm

Oil on canvas


Collection of National Museum of Singapore

With firm and delicate brushwork, quiet and gentle style ,Chen was good at portraits and still life paintings. Her paintings have a strong Cézanne style of post-impressionism (especially her early works), but they also exude a certain Van Gogh style and artistic characteristics.She believed and said at the outset:“ Westerners can understand the portrayal of China and Chinese people's lives”. 

<Still Life with Tropical Fruits>

54 x 64 cm

 Oil on canvas


<Lotus Symphony>

58 x 144 cm

Oil on canvas


Collection of LONG MUSEUM West Bund (Shanghai)

In her painting method, whether she was painting figures, landscapes or still life decorations, she always paid attention to vividness, emphasizing traditional techniques through the expressions of colors and lines. 


Although she painted portraits, still life and landscapes, Chen was basically a Nanyang artist who depicted local themes. She always used images of these themes to express and advocate a recognition of this region, intentionally or unintentionally.

<Portrait of Eugene Chen>

92 x 91.5 cm

Oil on canvas



1960s and 1970s: Lai Foong Moi (1931-1995), Malaysia's first Nanyang Art woman artist to study in Paris 

Lai Foong Moi (1931-1995) was the first Malaysian woman artist to study Fine Arts in Paris (influenced by Chang Li Ying). In 1953, she graduated from the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. With the influence from Georgette Chen, in 1954, she was awarded  a French government scholarship for a three year study at the Ecoles des Beaux-Arts art academy in Paris . 

Lai FoongMoi (1931 - 1995), Malaysian Famous Chinese Women Artists.

She is a Malaysian-born female artist who studied abroad in Paris to further her art.Her artistic style was influenced by Post-Impressionism. Her paintings included landscapes, scenes of traditional customs and portraits, mainly women. She is an important Nanyang Fine Arts artist, combining post-impressionist influence and structural image of China in her works.

<Home Coming>

77 × 65 cm

Oil on canvas


Collection of Singapore Airlines Limited

<Boats In The Sea>

49 x 99 cm

Oil on canvas


She returned to the country in late 1958 and held solo exhibitions in Singapore, Kuala Lumpur and Penang with her artworks from her period of study abroad. The exhibitions caused huge sensations, and her artworks received high acclaim and her reputation rose.


In 1959, she was appointed by the President of Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, Lim Hak Tai to teach at Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts. Lai taught at her alma mater for 36 long years until 1994 and was subsequently awarded the Long Service Award. At that time when Lai Foong Moi was a senior lecturer in Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, her continuous artworks captured a wide range of subjects, including landscape, figures and still-life. 


With her unique art style and personality, her works were widely loved and sought after by people from all walks of life. Many of her artworks are collected by the Singapore and Malaysia National Art Galleries, Penang Museum and Art Galleries, as well as private collectors, be it local or foreign.

<Shuang Lin Temple> ,107 x 76 cm,

Oil on canvas,1994

<Ship>, 80 x 64.5 cm, 

Oil on canvas, 1960


1980s and 1990s: Dr. Yuen Chee Ling (1950-2015), Pioneer in the Rise of "Nanyang Women's Art" in Malaysia 

Dr.Yuen Chee Ling (1950-2015) was born in Penang, Malaysia in 1950. Dr. Yuen Chee Ling specialised in oil paintings. Her works are famous for being colourful and figurative in style. Her representative works included "Women by Women", "Batik as Painting ", "Silver Chariot Procession" and "Rest". 

Awarded Doctorate Degree for Fine Art by University Sains Malaysia 2007. Ph.D in Fine Arts

She self-taught and started oil painting at the age of 13 and began to participate in group exhibitions in 1971. She held solo exhibitions since 1978. In 1980, she was awarded a scholarship by the Malaysia Ministry of Culture for Creative Art Study in USM (1980) and then continued as a University Scholar in the University of Philippines (1983). Graduated with BFA (1985) and MFA (1986) degrees at the University of Philippines. In 2008, she was awarded the PhD (doctoral degree) by the University Sains Malaysia.  


During her lifetime, she had held 16 solo exhibitions locally and abroad. She participated in more than 100 exhibitions in important state museums in Malaysia, Argentina, Thailand, Japan, China, Australia, United Kingdom, USA, Denmark, Korea, Vietnam etc. 

<Yuen Chee Ling Self-Portrait>

91 x 72 cm

Oil on canvas


In 1989, Dr. Yuen Chee Ling founded and became the principal of the Conservatory of Fine Arts in Penang, Malaysia.  Together with her husband Mr. Yeong Seak Ling, who is also a famous Malaysian artist, they cultivated many outstanding students and had made countless dedications towards Fine Arts promotion. 


Her personal resume was included in the Chinese archives and published in "Piao Yu Ji-A Collection of Chinese Female Artists in the 20th Century".


In 1993, she founded the International Women Artists Council (INWAC) --an international network of women artists group to promote women’s art through the theme “Her Presence In Colours” - International Women Artists Exhibition Series. To date, “Her Presence In Colours series I to VIII had been held at Beijing, Mongolia, Korea, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Sheffield (UK), Melbourne, and Daegu etc.

<Harmonious tune>  

61 x 61 cm



<Nyonya Series: Lantern Night>


Oil on canvas


Collection of Heshan Museum, Guangzhuo, China

Dr. Yuen was invited to the Olympic Fine Arts 2008 (Beijing) as a “Representative of Excellent Artists of the World". She was awarded the Gold Medal, the Olympic Torch and a Certificate by the organizer of Olympic Fine Arts 2008. In 2013, Yuen Chee Ling was elected as the Honourable member of the Russia Royal Academy of Fine Arts as an outstanding international figure in her achievement in the field of Fine Arts. She was awarded a certificate, a red robe, a medal with emblem of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and a passport to all the museums of the world.


Dr. Yuen has 9 publications to her credit; her oil paintings have been featured on the covers of international magazines many times, including Reader's Digest (English version), Cosmos, Hotel, Expats (first issue in 1999 and 2008) "City Walk" (Beijing Korean version) etc. About Dr Yuen Chee Ling's art reports, there are more than 100 reviews  published in various Chinese and foreign magazines. The art reviews and articles written by her have been published in art magazines, newspaper columns and various international networks  many times. Her published personal artworks included "Women by Women", "Batik as Paintings" and so on.


In 2015, Dr. Yuen Chee Ling succumbed to kidney cancer and passed away at the age of 65, leaving a nearly completed posthumous artwork with the title "Blessings". Her husband Yeong Seak Ling said that he would continue to complete the final touches of this artwork for his wife. 

As the posthumous work of "Blessing", her husband Yang Xilin said that he would complete the final touch-up of this work for his wife to continue the "blessing".

<Nyonya Series: Chop Goh Meh>

62 x 55cm

Oil on Canvas



90s and 2000s: Sylvia Lee Goh (1940-2021) Malaysia’s Nanyang Peranakan pioneer women artist

Born in Penang in 1940, Sylvia Lee Goh is a Malaysian self-taught painter noted for celebrating the Peranakan heritage which she presents in her own unique style of painting through still life, self-portraits and women clad in Nyonya Kebaya or sarong, at rest or playing. 

Sylvia Lee Goh (1940 – 2021) , Malaysian famous women artist

She started gaining prominence in the Malaysian art scene in the early 1990s through group exhibitions and a series of portraits, still life, landscapes and in her later years, semi-abstract works. 


As a self-taught artist, Lee Goh ventured into painting at the relatively late age of 29 as a way to keep herself occupied. Through the years, Lee Goh's paintings had three constant motifs-women, flowers-foliage, and still life.


Women, most often renditions of herself, flowers-foliage and an array of still life dominated by artefacts from her inherent Nyonya heritage.

<Nyonya's Secret Recipe> 

Oil on canvas


<New Year Still Life>

Oil on canvas


“My work has always been a search for identity. I’ve always been a people-person, so they’re about bonding and relationships. They’re about memories, the re-examination of life, bearing in mind how fragile we mortals are… ” Lee Goh was quoted as saying in an interview. 


Beyond the old-world charm and her deep love for Peranakan heritage (customs, food and fashion), Lee Goh's paintings also thrived on her femininity.She felt that women have a softer, more sensitive approach to colour, texture and forms and they have a passionate appreciation for all things beautiful.

<Nyonya Nostalgia Series III-Nyonya Maternal:3 Generations: Happy Family>

86 x 116 cm


Since started, Sylvia Lee Goh kept on painting for over 40 years. She had taken part in about 60 joint exhibitions locally and abroad, and  two solo exhibition. Her works have been collected by the National Visual Arts Gallery, Penang State Art Gallery, corporate institutions, various foundations and art patrons.

<Eternal Prosperity>

dia. 116 cm



General conclusion: unique style of Nanyang Art painting

In the past 50 years, Singapore and Malaysia women artists have made fruitful achievements, integrating Chinese and Western cultures, fusing traditional Eastern paintings with local multiculturalism, forming a unique style of Nanyang Art painting. There are three characteristics in general:

  • The Creative Mind portrays the female world of "truth, goodness and beauty" to the Public


  • The Awakening of Female Consciousness reflects the painter's concern for survival in the real world


  • The Innovation in women artists' Expressions shows the improvement in the artistic level of the artist

Throughout the past half century, we have seen the persistence, perseverance, earnestness and hard work of Singapore and Malaysia women artists in their artistic creations. 


However, each artist may have her endowments and short comings too, which is to be expected, for, after all, Malaysia is a young country without a long history of cultural heritage and development in art history. Still the Women Artists have bloomed as flowers of Nanyang in the painting world, where they dwell on with such passion and enthusiasm, continuing the Legacy of the New Nanyang Style-Art.

-The End-


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