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Cheo Chai-Hiang (b. 1946, Singapore - ) is an artist who pioneered Singapore's modern art scene. In 1975, he famously wrote that local art in that period was dominated by the production of "beautiful pictures" that were lacking in conceptual content. He perceived art as a thought process and urged the transformation of local realist art to one that redefined methods of artistic representation. He popularised interactive art in Singapore in the 1980s and 1990s with his work titled Gentleman in Suit and Tie (1988), back in the days when such methods of incorporating the audience into an exhibition were considered unconventional.
Upon completing his secondary education, Cheo took up a place at the Department of Modern Languages and Literature at the Nanyang University. The young artist-to-be chose not to study at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts (NAFA) because he felt that the formal instructive methods of teaching art in Singapore were generally oppressive and not conducive to the nurturing of creativity. Instead, he opted to develop his interest in art through self-study and associated himself with practising artists.
In 1965, he left Nanyang University, unhappy with the constant counter-communism surveillance and police raids that he was subjected to as a student there. He entered the Teachers' Training College and went on to become a high school teacher. However, he was still very interested in art and began participating in the Modern Art Society's annual exhibitions in 1968.
In 1971, he left Singapore for England to pursue a formal education in art. He enrolled in the foundation course at the Birmingham Polytechnic as preparation for admission into a degree programme. He was later accepted into the Brighton Polytechnic's three-year programme in printmaking. After graduating with a BA (Hons) in Fine Art in 1975, he furthered his studies at the Royal College of Art in London, where he obtained a Master of Art in 1978.
To Cheo, modern art should be fluid and the resultant artwork should not be presented as an immutable form but rather one that is the outcome of interactions between artists, materials, concepts and environments. Rather than be confined by conventional aesthetics and the need to constantly create commercially-valuable objects, he believes in giving thought to ideas, concepts and processes as well as in engaging the everyday world as a site for materials, inspiration and methods of making art.
He is widely known for his eight-point scheme which proposes the criteria for appraising new art. The points include: rejection of formalism; incorporation of everyday objects and materials in the process of making; eminence given to the method of practice over the finished product; and interactive engagement of audiences in artistic processes and activities.
In 1988, Cheo presented an installation-cum-event titled Gentleman in Suit and Tie. During the event, 60 members of the audience were each given a stick of charcoal and asked to scribble over sheets of paper attached to a wall. Each sheet had been embossed with a man's image earlier so that the efforts of the audience would eventually produce 60 images of the man. With this installation piece, Cheo aimed to show that authorship was a shared privilege and that creativity did not belong solely to the artist.
For him, the ability to articulate methods ("what they're doing") and intentions ("what they intend to do") is most important. The use of language is a prominent feature within his artistic system. In his wall installation Teh Tarik (Courting After School 1950's Style), which was showcased during the 2008 Singapore Biennale, his artistic trademark was evident through the use of texts where he quoted from a novel by Singaporean writer Yeng Pway Ngon.
Awards and Residencies
1977 : Travelling Scholarship (Barcelona, Spain), Royal College of Art, United Kingdom.
1978 : First Prize, Ellingham Mill Art Society, Suffolk, United Kingdom.
1978, 1979 : Rome Scholar in Printmaking, British School at Rome, Italy.
1982 : Visual Arts Board Grant, Australia Council for the Arts.
1983 : Artist in Residence, Brisbane College of Advanced Education (now Queensland University of Technology), Queensland, Australia.
1987 : Visiting Artist, South Australian School of Art, Adelaide, Australia.
1988 : Development Grant, Visual Arts/Craft Board, Australia Council for the Arts.
1989 : Artist in Residence, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia.
1994 : Artist in Residence, NAFA, Singapore.
1994 : Visiting Artist, China National Academy of Fine Art, Hangzhou, China.
1999 - 2000 : Artist in Residence, NAFA, Singapore.
1975 : National Library Building, Singapore.
1979 : British School at Rome, Italy.
1981, 1982 : Drummond Street Gallery, Melbourne, Australia.
1983 : Gallery A, Sydney, Australia.
1985 : Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, Australia.
1986 : Brisbane CAE Gallery, Brisbane, Australia.
1987 : South Australia CAE Gallery, Australia.
1988 : National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1989 : Roz MacAllan Gallery, Brisbane, Australia.
1989, 1992 : Rex Irwin Art Dealer, Sydney, Australia.
1994 : Street Level Gallery, Sydney, Australia.
1994 : NAFA Gallery, Singapore.
1994 - 1995 : China National Academy of Fine Art, Hangzhou, China.
1996 : Gallery 21, Singapore.
2000 : Plastique Kinetic Worms, Singapore.
2000 : An affiliated event of the 12th Sydney Biennale, Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre, Australia.
2008 : Teh Tarik (Courting After School 1950's Style), 2nd Singapore Biennale, South Beach Development, Singapore.
Selected Group Shows
1968 - 1974 : Modern Art Exhibition, Singapore.
1975, 1976 : RCA Print Show, Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom.
1977 : Galerie de L'Ecole des Beaux Arts, Rouen, France.
1978 : Ellingham Mill Art Society, Suffolk, United Kingdom.
1978 : 2nd Western Pacific Print Biennale, Print Council of Australia.
1979, 1980 : Mostra, British School at Rome, Italy.
1979 - 1980 : 50 Years of Printmaking, Royal College of Art, London, United Kingdom.
1981 : 1st Australian Sculpture Triennial, La Trobe University, Victoria, Australia.
1983 : Attitudes to Drawing, Ivan Dougherty Gallery, Sydney, Australia.
1983, 1984 : Sydney Printmakers Exhibition, Blaxland Gallery, Sydney, Australia.
1984 : Australian Sculpture Now, 2nd Australian Sculpture Triennial, Melbourne, Australia.
1986 : Culture Drift, Adelaide Festival of Arts, Australia.
1988 : Contemporary Print Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1989 : ARX, Australia & Regions Artists' Exchange, Perth, Australia.
1991 : National Sculpture Exhibition, National Museum Art Gallery, Singapore.
1999 : Provocative Things, Sculpture Square, Singapore.
1999 - 2000 : Nokia Singapore Art, Singapore Art Museum.
2006 : Telah Terbit, Singapore Art Museum.
Sabapathy, T. K., & Briggs, C. (2000). Cheo Chai-Hiang: Thoughts and processes (rethinking the Singapore River). Singapore: Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts; Singapore Art Museum.
(Call no.: RSING 709.59570904 CHE; RART 709.59570904 CHE)
National Arts Council. (2008, September 4). Senior Minister to officiate at Singapore Biennale 2008 [Press release]. Retrieved January 22, 2009, from http://www.singaporebiennale.org/downloads/SB2008_pressroom-20080904.pdf
Blondeau, N., Cheo, C. H., & Purushotam, N. (c2003). The housework project. Singapore: [Artists of project].
(Call no.: RSING 709.0407 HOU)
Cheo, C. H., Loke, J., & Yang, J. (Eds.). . "Raised": A mini art carnival at Little India. [Singapore: s.n.].
(Call no.: RSING 709.5957 RAI)
Cheo Chai-Hiang [Ephemera].
(Call no.: RCLOS EPHE P33 v. 1)
Liu, K., & Ho, H. Y. (2005). Re-connecting: Selected writings on Singapore art and art criticism (T.K. Sabapathy & Cheo C. H., Eds.; interjections by Cheo C. H.; Cheo C. H., Trans.). Singapore: Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore; LaSalle-SIA College of the Arts.
(Call no.: RSING 709.59570904 LIU)
The information in this article is valid as at 2009 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.