Dr Chua Yang used to embark on as many as 14 trips a year – medical missions to far-flung locations like Mongolia and Myanmar, conferences and lectures abroad, ski and golf trips, and vacations with family. While overseas, she would document local sights and peoples with her trusty Leica M. But having been grounded by Covid the past two years, she turned her lens to a subject much closer to home – her father, the renowned oil painter Chua Mia Tee.
The 2015 Cultural Medallion winner is best known for his depictions of daily life and significant moments in Singapore’s history, conveyed in a tender, realistic style. And the photo exhibition featuring him is a collection of personal snapshots that offer a glimpse into the daily life of the 90-year-old artistic giant.
Displayed at the Leica Galerie at Raffles Hotel Singapore, “The Man Behind That Portrait” is Dr Chua Yang’s debut photo exhibition, and it was timed to coincide with the launch of her father’s own art exhibition at the National Gallery, “Chua Mia Tee: Directing the Real”, which is running through 20 Nov 2022.
“What I wanted to show in the whole series was this regular guy who has shaped the art of the nation, who has been acknowledged to have the one of the most prolific collections of nation-building testimony and documents in an art form, and why his person says so much about his art too,” Dr Chua explains.
“He’s a realist painter and he’s never veered from that. He’s always believed in representing truth with compassion, and highlighting the beauty around us – whether it’s a person or the scenery, whether it’s old Singapore or new Singapore, there’s always this realistic representation of it.”
Her photos of her father weren’t shot with the intention of holding an exhibition, Dr Chua says. The majority of the photographs on display were taken over the last three to four years, after Dr Chua’s mother, the oil painter Lee Boon Ngan, passed away in 2017; with the Covid-19 pandemic curtailing the social engagements of Dr Chua’s father; and with Dr Chua spending more time at home.
“Sometimes, sticking a camera in his face really makes him smile,” she says. “It makes me want to keep at it, so I have a huge collection of photographs of him.”
Photography has played a major role in Dr Chua’s life; she has always had a camera in her hands, she says. Starting from snapping photos on compact cameras, she grew more serious about photography when she started travelling overseas for missions, because the mission trips took her to pristine places that boasted vibrant culture and were not the usual tourist spots.