The Asian Traditional in the Works of Liu Kang and Tan Kai Syng


Session Title:

  • Technological Mediations of Identity

Presentation Title:

  • The Asian Traditional in the Works of Liu Kang and Tan Kai Syng




  • Location and cultural identity are two of the key concerns in the works of contemporary artists in Singapore. However, these art makers are often unaware that artists working in the same geographical area in the past were grappling with similar issues. In this paper, I will discuss the notion of “Asia” in the art works of two Singapore-based artists – painter Liu Kang (1911-2004) and video/interactive media artist Tan Kai Syng (b. 1975) – whose practices are some fifty years apart, suggesting that both artists attempt to come to terms with an “Asia” whose meaning is continually reshaped by political, social and cultural forces. Focussing on Liu’s paintings in the 1950s, and Tan’s videos from 2004 to 2006, I hope to show that central to the works of both artists is the idea of a “pan-Asia” that is made up of human communities presumed to have primordial commonalities. While Liu relied on the notion of an “Asian bloc” to enable him to create an art form that was simultaneously relevant to China (the country which he identified strongly with) and Singapore (the place where he lived), Tan critically examines the idea of a homogenous Asia by revisiting the rhetoric of “Asia for Asians” used by the Japanese Imperial Army to legitimise their occupation of Singapore during the Pacific War. Thus, my proposed paper aims to address issues of regionalism, location and modern Asian identity as they pertain to the works of the two Singaporean artists.