Much of art history is dominated by the Western tradition, with the art that we are most frequently exposed to coming from the Western World. And while the West has an undeniably rich and diverse history of art worth delving into, we often don’t get to see enough of art from different parts of the world. In an effort to combat this, we’ve decided to start a World Art series to highlight art from different regions, and shed more light on global art history.

This week, we’re looking at 20th Century art and artists from Southeast Asia, introducing you to 8 great artists you may not have known about, but definitely should. These artists helped to shape the artistic landscapes of their various countries, contributing to the unique cultural identity of countries like Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar. We believe that there’s a lot to be said about increasing our understanding of the arts of other cultures, and we hope you feel the same way as you learn about these artists (in any case, it’ll make you sound smart on your next date or book club…).


1. Liu Kang

Artist & Model, 1952

One of Singapore’s foremost modern artists, Liu Kang is credited as one of the creators of the Nanyang Style, a style characterized by the blending of Eastern and Western artistic elements, and the artist’s search for a personal identity in a new land. Liu Kang was also inspired by Cézanne, Matisse and Van Gogh, and in the use of bright colors, bold outlines and flat planes,  you can see some of these influences in his Artist & Model.

Learn more about Liu Kang here.


2. Georgette Chen

Self Portrait, 1946

Another artist from Singapore, Georgette Chen is known for her post-impressionistic oil paintings, and is also credited with developing the Nanyang style of art. As a young woman, Chen had her work selected for exhibition at the Salon d’Automne in Paris. At an older age, Chen decided to combine her Western training with Asian themes, creating a unique, distinctive style of painting.

Learn more about Georgette Chen here.

3. Latiff Mohidin

Pago Pago, 1964  

One of the early modernists in Malaysia, Latiff Mohidin’s work is inspired by the nature and culture of Southeast Asia. Mohidin studied in Berlin, Paris and New York, and the bold lines, vivid colors and loose brushstrokes in his work reflect the influence of Abstract Expressionism. The work above, Pago-Pago,  is part of an ongoing series of the same name.

Learn more about Latiff Mohidin here.


4. Cheong Soo Pieng

Drying Salted Fish, 1978

A driving force of Modernism in 20th Century Singapore along with Liu Kang, Chen Wen Hsi, and Georgette Chen, Cheong Soo Pieng’s signature style is characterized by elongated female figures with long, slender limbs and almond shaped eyes. Fun fact: The piece above, Drying Salted Fish, is featured on the back of Singapore’s $50 note!

Learn more about Cheong Soo Pieng here.

5. Fua Haripitak

Blue Green, 1956

A pioneer of modern thai painting and a noted art restorer, Fua Haripitak is credited with developing new styles of painting while preserving Classical Thai art. From 1954-56, Fua was awarded a scholarship to study at the L’accademia Di Bellie Arti in Rome. During this time, Fua experimented with a variety of painting techniques and dabbled in abstract and cubist styles, as seen in the painting above.  

Learn more about Fua Haripitak here.

6. Wu Guanzhong

Chongqing of the Old Times, 1997

Regarded as the founder of modern Chinese painting. Wu Guanzhong developed a distinct style of painting that mixed the western practice of Formalism with the Chinese style of calligraphy. With an acute color sense and subtle variations of ink tones, Wu manages to bring feeling and emotion to his abstract landscapes.

Learn more about Wu Guanzhong here.

7. Damrong Wong Uparaj

Three Movements, 1964

Born in Chiang Rai, Thailand, Damrong Wong Uparaj studied Fine Arts at Silpakorn University and London’s Slade School. Wong Uparaj was an internationally renowned artist who combined his interest in Buddhist philosophy with abstract art. Many of Wong Uparaj’s work carry an aura of calm, as seen in the cool blue hues and soft, hazy brushstrokes of Three Movements.

Learn more about Damrong Wong Uparaj here.


8. U Ba Nyan

Self Portrait, 1937

U Ba Nyan was a Burmese oil painter known for his quiet and academic style, accented by the use of chiaroscuro and impasto.  After studying at the Royal College of Art in London, Ba Nyan returned to Myanmar and played a key role in introducing and teaching the western techniques he learnt to a new generation of artists.

Learn more about U Ba Nyan here.


We hope you enjoyed this glimpse into the modern arts scene in Southeast Asia, and that you learnt a little bit about a different side of art history. Look out for the next installment of our World Art Series, where we look at the burgeoning contemporary arts scene in Africa.

In the meantime, we’d love to hear your comments and thoughts on this article, and welcome your feedback on the types of art that you would like to learn more about!