When Malaysian cultural commentator Marco Hsu was invited to be the regular columnist of the Chinese-language Nanfang Evening Post to write about the history of Art in Malaya in 1963, it was a momentous point for the nation as Singapore joined Malaya to form the new nation state of Malaya. Fast forward 50 years, English and Comparative Literature Professor Pericles Lewis found himself on a path not unlike that of Marco Hsu, when he accepted the appointment of Founding President to champion the birth of the first liberal arts college in Singapore.
Speaking at the opening of the “Between Here and Nanyang, Marco Hsu’s Brief History of Malayan Art” exhibition opening at the NUS Museum, President Pericles Lewis referenced the introduction of Marco Hsu’s thesis on the art history of modern Malaya: “Malaya is often a called cultural desert, is it that bad in reality?” – a question that underlined the common perception by Hsu’s contemporaries, that Malaya and Singapore were places where commerce was the main driving force and those who dwelled here were interested in, and capable of, very little else. In a similar vein, this question mirrored one that Yale-NUS College faced as it seeks to establish itself in Singapore, where Asian students and parents were perceived to be pragmatic in skills specialization and doubted the value of liberal studies for future careers.
To the contrary, President Lewis has in fact discovered a great hunger for pedagogy in Asia that truly encourages critical thinking and a model of liberal arts and science adapted for the 21st century, in his numerous interactions and conversations with educators in Asia in the recent few years. Back in 1963, Marco Hsu has similarly assembled an impressive collection of artists whose works explore the identity and culture of the newly formed nation. These articles were later compiled into a book titled A Brief History of Malayan Art, which is the basis this exhibition was built upon.
As Yale-NUS College’s inaugural cohort of liberal arts students begins classes for the first time, President Lewis is hopeful of the opportunities for our students and liberal arts education in Singapore. “Our students at Yale-NUS are very fortunate to have direct access to NUS Museum with its wealth of cultural resources,” added President Lewis. “We look forward to opportunities for future interactions and exchanges with NUS Museum in curriculum partnerships, research fellowships, and module collaborations.”
“Between Here and Nanyang: Marco Hsu’s Brief History of Malayan Art” opens at NUS Museum on 21 August 2013 and runs till 2015.